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Episode 4: IndyCar Pit Crew
Didier Francesia is one of the top mechanics in the IndyCar game, with over two decades under his belt. After a lengthy stint with Formula 1, Francesia headed stateside to begin working with IndyCar in 1997. In early 2012, he teamed up with the Dragon Racing group as crew chief, and currently oversees the outside front tire on French race car driver Sebastien Bourdais’ number 7 car.
So you change the outside front tire of Sebastien Bourdais’ number 7 car. What’s most important to you when you’re doing this task?
Francesia: The biggest challenge is not the actual job of changing the tire. I’ve been doing it for so long, so it’s not really hard. But the hardest thing is to make sure everyone else in the pit is done [with their tasks] because I’m in charge of sending the car away once it’s ready. If somebody’s not done and you accidentally send the car, it’d be a disaster–you can break hands or there can be a fire.
What is the most misunderstood part of your job?
Francesia: Some people probably don’t realize how intense and demanding it is. People often ask, “What do you do the rest of the week when you’re not racing?” But it’s more than a full-time job. For example, earlier this year we were gone for 65 days with only two days off.
What do you love most about your profession?
Francesia: The competition. That’s definitely what drives me. I want us to be better and faster than anyone else.
What is your number one priority while on the job?
Francesia: There are a few things: Being clean and tidy is crucial. Being on time is super important. And being passionate because if you’re not passionate, you’re never going to stay in racing. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it for long.
What is the biggest blunder or mishap that you’ve ever experienced on the job?
Francesia: This year, we had a crash in the mid-lane due to one of the drivers having a break problem. The driver ended up running into the back of a car. Some of us were lucky and didn’t get hurt too much, but others had a few broken bones.
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to get into the mechanical side of professional racing?
Francesia: I would say make sure your significant other knows what you’re going to go through because it’s not easy on a relationship. It’s really demanding on that part of the job, but the reward of racing is really good.
What was it like working with Richard Hammond? Did you have any preconceptions of him?
Francesia: I was pretty excited when I found out that “Crash Course” would be coming to Sonoma, as I have been a “Top Gear” fan for years. When I say “fan,” I really, really love that show. And it was cool to see how a car guy like Richard did with a different car-type job because while it’s a car, it’s very different than an everyday road car.
Plus, I was curious to see how he would adapt to our set up. He struggled a little bit in the beginning, which is totally normal. But after we worked together for about an hour, his times improved and his motions were more natural.
In some of the other “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course” episodes this season, he attempts to drive a taxi in New York City, a stuntman in Hollywood, and a snake handler in Los Angeles, just to name a few. Is there another profession outside of your own that you would like to try?
Francesia: After seeing a “Crash Course” preview, I think there are a few things I’d like to try. I’m pretty adventurous and not really scared of much. Being a snake wrangler, I wouldn’t mind trying that.