INDIANAPOLIS – Memo to young engineers aspiring to become the next bright minds at the upper levels of motorsports.
Pull your noses out of the laptop for a while and get your hands dirty.
Racing teams are searching the world for the next generation of engineers, especially as the sport advances deeper into hybrid and electric technology. But the commodity that’s becoming more difficult to find is someone with that knowledge who also can spin a wrench.
Mike Hull, managing director of 14-time IndyCar Series champion four-time Indianapolis 500-winning team Chip Ganassi Racing, says he could use a six-pack of kids with that combination of knowledge and skill.
“All race teams at all levels are larger now,” Hull said. “By them being large, it reduces the pool of people who want to do it. When we find a keeper, we work hard to keep them in the fold and we mentor them quite well.”
The Ganassi team, for example, works closely with Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, which offers a motorsports degree in engineering. Ganassi’s technical director, Julian Robertson, works with the school directing students, as well as the curriculum, toward the practical side of what an engineer must do in IndyCar racing opposed to a strictly academic-driven program.
“We encourage all the students there to become involved with a racing program in some way, even if they volunteer with a racing program on the weekends,” Hull said. “It’s so they get their hands in there, so they understand to equate the textbook with the practical aspect of running the vehicle. Every intern we’ve taken on in the last few years has been doing that in some fashion.”
He said practical experience makes a big difference in terms of how a student studies, what they look for and how they put that experience together with what they’ve learned in class.
“It’s probably a direct comparison to how all of us grew up, when practical engineering was important,” Hull said. “Now, practical engineering and educational engineering are becoming more important as we go forward with the technology that’s in front of us.”
The IndyCar Series is moving toward hybrid technology, which will be part of the new engine formula to be introduced in 2024.
“Your street car used to have a four-barrel carburetor, but today your street car has an electric-controlled fuel system. Your car is electrically managed today,” Hull said. “There’s a lot of depth of technology available today to racing teams in that regard that we never used to have because the automobile didn’t have it. An example of what’s going on with IndyCar racing and sportscar racing today is that the next phase of development for both will be hybrid technology because that’s what street vehicles are doing.
“The engineering aptitude needs to roll in that direction quickly. We’re searching the world today to try and find young, bright engineers who want to be able to work on vehicle control that centers around hybrid and electric technology, because that is the next thing that we will race. Universities around the world are working on that, and we’ll be working on it if not today, then very soon in order to keep pace.”
And if a youngster also has gotten their hands dirty under a race car, that’s the “keeper” race teams want.