Brad Kettler: On The Road With A Champion
Timing. I spoke with Brad Kettler while he was in Germany doing his Audi gig
and he was leaving for home the next day. This story was in the can and I just
had to pull some photos and get it on the site. A different edit was going to
be for print. In the space and time of a transatlantic flight, the whole
motorsport world of sports prototype racing was to change for Kettler and
Company. Brad switched on his phone upon landing, checked his messages
and got the news that was soon heard Ďround the racing world. Obviously this
interview does not reflect the present and immediate future, however, it
should be read as it serves as a reminder of how a pro approaches his job. If
Ralf Juttner has that look of an engineer in a lab coat, Brad Kettler looks like
he traveled back and forth cross country with Dean Moriarty in a í52 Chevy.
Like a Chet Baker trumpet soloÖ. cool.
I expect to see Brad Kettler at Sebring in his element when Audiís R15
makes itís initial excursion in to an uncertain season. Itís where he is
supposed to be and will be.
KM: I remember when you drove the truck for Porsche Motorsport and were
doing on track sales in what seems decades ago, how did this journey all
BK: I started working for Porsche Motorsport when we imported the
kundensport truck from Germany in October of 1998. I spent time that
summer working for them overseas and attending races and learning the
process. Alwin Springer wanted me fully up to speed when we started that
operation in the United States. He wanted someone who could work the
truck, drive it and fix it as well. Remember the tractor was a Mercedes Benz
1748, the only one in the country, if it broke I had to fix it.
KM: The days of being a crew chief have been eclipsed by the title of
technical director but it isn't simply word play, it is a far more difficult job.
When did this all become noticeable to you?
BK: It is a different job now, the cars have become so technical and so
demanding on the administrative side the job has changed. During
Championís R8 days I did both race engineer and tech director but it was
difficult. I guess for me the transition on big teams started to happen around
KM: When you were running the Porsche GT-2 and later, the GT-1, how
many personal did you have and then onward to the Audi R8 and to the R10?
BK: Endurance racing has always taken a fair number of staff. Inherently
doing pit stops requires at least a crew of 7. In the old days with the GT 2 the
total team for 2 cars might be 15. In the GT1 era maybe 20 for 2 cars. Now
our crew can be 45 or more depending on the event. Keep in mind the people
actually working on the car is about the same, itís just the specialists and
support staff are higher in number. For example we now have catering people,
IT specialists, telemetry, etc.
KM: How do you prepare for a race weekend, personally and then with your
BK: I read last yearís reports. I think about the circuit. I try to be practical
about our strengths and weaknesses. When the team gathers I try to greet
each member and put forth positive energy. Our organization has a lot of
momentum when itís running well and I try to keep that going. I talk to my
sons on the phone, that puts a bookend on the event and gives me focus.
KM: You are a veteran of the U.S. scene but have also done well in Europe,
especially Le Mans. What are the major differences of over here versus over
there? And what do you count among your top successes in that type of
BK: I donít find the differences to be a problem. Of course there are rules to
adapt to and understand but in the end racing creates its own challenges no
matter where you are. Among our top successes I would consider Le Mans
2003 and 2005, of course for different reasons. In 2003 we raced against the
Bentleys. We ran a perfect race, our R8 was flawless we had good pit stops,
etc. We just got out run by a faster car that did not break. For any other year,
that should have been be a victorious effort. In 2005 we had a slower, heavier
car and got in the lead after 3 hours and were hounded to the flag. We were
constantly under pressure and slower some times by up to 6 seconds a lap.
The team was unflappable and kept their heads together under some extreme
pressure. I was extremely proud for us to be the only American team that had
won since 1967. That was a special moment for me for sure. I was the
engineer and crew chief for the winning car and it holds a special place in my
heart and will forever. Additionally, running those races overseas was made
possible by a supportive and focused team owner in Dave Maraj. He gave us
the resources to do the job. He unwaveringly gave me Mike Peters, Jerome
Freeman, Louis Milone and the team the latitude to do what we needed to do
to be successful. This came in trucks, equipment, staff etc.
KM: I asked your Euro counterpart, Ralf Juttner, what makes a successful
race team, so now it's your turn.
BK: Good question, I think a successful team is one that trusts one another.
A good team checks each other and has respect. A good team is a diverse
group that each one takes their job seriously and respects others duties. A
good team has strong leadership and may disagree at times but acts in a
unified manor when it counts.
KM: You have been fortunate to continue working with drivers such as Allan
McNish through Porsche (GT1) and the Audi. Does this type of continuity
help a team or have cars become so technical that it is no longer that
BK: I think itís very important. I feel very fortunate to have worked with drivers
like Allan, for a long time. I think that kind of friendship and understanding
helps advance everyoneís thinking. There is a trust factor there that puts you
all up to speed quicker. You know each other; you know the voice, accent,
and mannerisms. This can be invaluable during the critical moments of a
race. It streamlines the language and creates and economy of words and
movements. This description fits in well with almost every professional driver I
have worked with and the results speak for themselves. You know their
KM: Following that vein, driver feedback used to be the major element in
testing and now so many engineers rely on electronics. There seems to be a
split on opinion as to the driverís importance and opinion.
BK: Iím a little old school here. I will also date myself by saying that for me
intuition about the tires combined with driver feedback, are most important for
me personally. What I always say is that no matter how technical a car gets
a human has to drive it. Without that this becomes a dry science. Data
systems now are amazing in their resolution. They allow one to spot
anomalies and trends better than ever before. This cannot be diminished, but
at the end of the day no matter how good the car is a driver has to have the
confidence to use it all and feel comfortable. That is when they can ďraceĒ
KM: What does 2009 hold for you, Champion and Audi Sport North America.
Have you been involved with the R15 yet?
BK: At this point we have not finalized our 2009 plans.
KM: With the recent economic problems, how will this affect the preparations
for the new season?
BK: I am certain that it will in some way. It is difficult to speculate on. I think
all businesses big and small will feel an impact. I am optimistic for the series
due to its emphasis on development of alternative fuels technology.
KM: There was a reunion of Audi R8's at Sebring and I hear that you have
purchased the molds from Ingolstadt so spares would be available. A good
business move on your part, but it seems more of an emotional attachment
BK: I love R8ís period. I think they are fantastic race cars. I want to see them
preserved and raced. I do have an emotional attachment to them. I remember
seeing the first one run here in the states. Our team came of age racing
them. They gave us the platform from which we were able to develop other
parts of our program. Running these cars meant that we had to come to their
level with our pit stops and strategy etc. I got so familiar with engineering
them during my time that it was enjoyable to see just how fast they would go.
They were so dead reliable and repairable that no one could ever count you
out. I look fondly on their era as one of special significance, one I was proud
to be part of.