The group chat app made famous by Team Penske’s Will Power has made its way into NTT IndyCar Series.
As the IndyCar iRacing Challenge came to life last year during the nationwide shutdown, the free Discord app was used to connect IndyCar drivers by voice and text throughout the six-race series. Thanks to the constant flaming of rivals by the 2018 Indy 500 winner, Discord gained notoriety in the sport for Power’s ascension as Roastmaster General.
It also piqued the interest of Chip Ganassi Racing for its abilities to connect its staff once the 2020 season got under way. At the moment, CGR is the only member of IndyCar’s Big 3 teams to utilize Discord.
“We started using it during the iRacing series last year, and when we went back racing with team roster limits, we needed to leverage our personnel away from the racetrack so we were looking into some very costly and complicated systems,” CGR performance director Chris Simmons told RACER.
“We honestly didn’t think Discord would work, but with a few tricks and a lot of work from our engineers we were able to overcome those hurdles. We ran it at Texas as kind of a trial and then had it rolled out full force for the second Indy road course event last year. We use Microsoft Teams for most of our meetings and even pit lane chats, but Discord works better for intercom-type audio.”
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IndyCar teams spend small fortunes on building elaborate timing stands and outfitting those rolling engineering and strategy platforms with expensive communication systems that include radios and high-speed internet connections. Whether it’s a software tool from Microsoft or simple SMS messaging, multi-car teams do their best to stay connected during a session, but it’s also common to see an engineer unplug their headset from one stand, walk to another, plug in, and have a conversation with a different group.
Not only has Discord bridged that communications gap, but it has also given someone like CGR driver coach Dario Franchitti an opportunity to add new layers of support while sitting at home, or while observing at a corner. It could be Simmons or one of the four CGR race engineers using Discord to seek or receive feedback from Franchitti; sending screenshots of onboard data for review, or passing back notes on how a driver might make an improvement at a corner has become part of a new and instant feedback loop for the team that did not exist prior to downloading Discord.
“With a lot of the technology that we developed last year, when I wasn’t able to travel to the races, we’ve been using Discord, and it’s allowed me to really work over the four cars in real time,” Franchitti said. “Listening to the timing stands at the same time as standing out at a turn, you can get data coming over right then and there. So now we’re doing things in real time through our phones or tablets instead of having to be there in person on the stand, and that’s been helpful. I made a wish list of stuff I thought could help, and they made it happen pretty quickly, so then I was like, ‘Wow, OK, can I get a pet monkey, too?’”