Canton man excels in the fast lane for IndyCar drivers, owners
Gryczan’s job: maximize performance of world’s most-powerful engines
As the fastest cars on the planet roar past him just a few yards away, Canton resident Andy Gryczan – sporting a Chevrolet fire suit – multi-tasks on summer Sunday afternoons as efficiently as the high-performance engines he calibrates.
In addition to keeping tabs on the IndyCar race he’s working from a spot on pit row, Gryczan – headphones secured to his head, iPhone in one hand, laptop close by – is tirelessly instant-messaging with engineers, listening for race strategies from Chevrolet IndyCar team members and, in extreme circumstances, talking on a radio to the drivers as they motor around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (to name one) at over 230 miles per hour.
Gryczan’s all-important job as Ilmor Engineering’s chief calibration engineer: maximize the performance of as many as 13 vehicles in IndyCar events – all while maintaining a steady calm amidst unimaginable chaos.
Of the approximately 300,000 people who attended this year’s Indianapolis 500, it would have been difficult to find another person more locked into the action than the Michigan State University graduate whose race-day adrenaline rises once the green light shines.
“When the race is over, you’re coming off this high of adrenaline and stress at the same time,” Gryczan said, explaining the hours after a race. “If the race ends with a good result, it’s a great feeling. If the result is bad, you’re kind of in the dumps for a while.
“There are a lot of high highs and some low lows.”
Plymouth-based Ilmor Engineering, Gryczan’s employer since 2010, is in the engine-building business. Its most-famous products provide horsepower to IndyCar stars like Will Power – not Impalas motoring along I-275.
Gryczan’s ascension to IndyCar engine maximizer was planted at MSU, where he participated in the university’s Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) program, which allows teams of students to compete against other universities in the design and manufacture of the best-performing race cars.
“Once I joined the Formula SAE, I knew this was kind of a calling,” Gryczan said. “It was my segway into what I’m doing now. I was attracted to the idea of working with racing engines and I figured if I could do it for a living, that would be amazing.”
A native of Grand Rapids, Gryczan said Canton is a perfect home for him because it’s roughly half-way between Ilmor’s headquarters and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
“During the summer racing season, especially when there are back-to-back (weekend) races, I’m getting on and off planes pretty regularly, so Canton is an ideal location to live,” he said.
Gryczan worked closely with Power from 2012-14, winning a championship with the popular driver in 2014.
“Like all of the drivers I work with, Will is super-approachable, down to earth,” Gryczan said. “I get to spend a lot of time around them and their families, which is really cool. People who follow racing know how talented these guys are, but they’re not egotistical at all. They’re fun guys to be around and they let us know how much they appreciate what we do.”
Gryczan’s job comes with a lot of perks – watching the largest one-day sporting event (the Indianapolis 500) in the world just a few feet from the action being one) – but getting an opportunity to drive the cars Ilmor’s engines power is not one of them.
“In years past, maybe the 90s, they’d set aside some time for the mechanics to drive around the track real quick,” Gryczan said. “But racing is a lot more cost-controlled now. The operating costs in racing are just too high to allow anyone other than the drivers, who are paid a lot to drive the cars, or sponsors, who pay a lot to drive the cars, to waste away any of the tires or fuel.”
IndyCar’s exposure on national television has put Gryczan and his trackside coworkers in the spotlight on a pretty regular basis.
“The cameras are right by where we’re working, so inevitably we end up on TV quite often,” he said. “My family and friends get excited when they see me.”
Gryczan’s focus on his job paid dividends for Ilmor clients in 2022 as the Chevrolet cars racked up impressive results. The biggest win was Power’s victory at the Detroit Grand Prix in July.
“It was probably the last Detroit race on Belle Isle and it was the 100th win for our engine program, so it was a pretty momentous day for us,” he said. “It definitely generated some hometown pride.”
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