Interview with JWR Alumni Kate Gundlach, engineer for Scott Dixon on winning the Indy car Series Championship
JWR Alumni, Kate Gundlach celebrated her first Verizon IndyCar Series Championship as a team engineer when Scott Dixon won his fifth IndyCar Series championship in 2018.
Kate works with the team's race engineer, Chris Simmons, and gave her thoughts to Autoweek after Dixon claimed the title at Sonoma Raceway in September 2018.
By INDYCAR | Published: May 16, 2018
Katie Hargitt woke up one morning earlier this year and realized there was no time like the present.
Hargitt has been in motorsports for 18 years, first as a short-track open-wheel driver and now as an NBCSN reporter on Verizon IndyCar Series telecasts, She often wondered how she could help to find a path for more young women to work in the world of racing, especially in the engineering, mechanical and business side of the sport.
“A few months ago, I woke up, and I thought: ‘This is the year of the woman. We can’t miss this opportunity to bring out young women, empower young women to achieve their dreams and show them all the successful women in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock.’”
“Fuel the Female” was born. The new group aims to empower young women to pursue careers in motorsports and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related industries. Fuel the Female’s inaugural event took place Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with 60 Indianapolis Public Schools female students visiting the track for the day and learning more about the exciting world of motorsports.
A variety of women with prominent careers in motorsports spoke to the girls in the North Chalet and the Firestone Suite at the track, sharing their experiences and encouragement about a career in racing, including Indianapolis 500 driver Danica Patrick; Kate Gundlach, assistant engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing; Cara Adams, chief engineer for Firestone Racing; Jessica Mace, mechanic at Andretti Autosport; and Lisa Boggs, Bridgestone Americas director of motorsports.
As the organization grows, Hargitt hopes Fuel the Female will serve as a door for an exciting new world for young women.
“As a reporter, so many times I see young girls up against the fence, looking for someone that looks like them in pit lane,” Hargitt said. “And there’s only a few of them. So I hope that girls come out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or they come into a Fuel the Female program and it lights a fire in them and a passion in them for motorsports so that we can grow that few into an army.”
Visit fuelthefemale.org to learn more about Fuel the Female, to join the foundation.
JWR ALUM: STAR MAZDA PRODUCES A DIFFERENT KIND OF GRADUATE – ENGINEER KATE GUNDLACH SIGNS WITH IZOD INDYCAR’S HVM RACING
John Walko Racing Alum moving up the ladder!
Official Star Mazda Press Release
Pacoima, CA / May 7, 2012 – Proving yet again that the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is one of the most effective and prolific motorsports development programs in racing today, the series is proud to announce that yet another graduate has made the big jump… directly from Star Mazda to IndyCar.
It’s a different kind of graduate this time, however. Not a driver, but rather Star Mazda Quality Control Engineer Kate Gundlach, who will immediately join HMV Racing as the Data and Electronics Engineer (DAG) for Simona De Silvestro and the #78 Entergy Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus Dallara. This move creates a rare pairing of female driver and female engineer, both of whom achieved substantial success climbing the open-wheel ladder and are poised for success at the top level of the sport.
“I worked with HVM during the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend and was very pleased when they offered me the DAG position on Simona’s car,” says Gundlach, who moved from Vancouver B.C. to Indianapolis to take the job. “I was very impressed with Simona and the HVM team, with their level of professionalism and presentation. It’s a huge change, moving from working for a series to working for a team, but the professional – and personal – education I received while working for the Star Mazda Championship has prepared me to hit the ground running in IndyCar and be confident that I can contribute to Lotus HVM Racing’s success.”
Gundlach, during her almost three years with the Star Mazda Championship (2009 – 2012), was responsible for working with the teams and series management to produce a continuous mechanical and electronic (including data systems) upgrading of the Pro Formula Mazda race car; an evolution designed to improve safety, reliability and speed while maintaining the series’ focus on placing driver talent ahead of big budgets.
“We’re very happy for Kate, but not surprised,” says Star Mazda founder and President Gary Rodrigues. “She’s a very accomplished engineer who has done great work for our series, so it’s inevitable that she, just like the drivers who compete in our series, is moving up the ladder. Star Mazda has always been a launching pad for drivers, crewmen, engineers and even teams moving up to the next level. That’s our main mission, and it’s always a pleasure to watch our graduates succeed. She will represent us well in IndyCar.”
A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Gundlach was raised in a motorcycling family, finally transitioning to open-wheel racing via the Formula SAE program while working on her mechanical engineering degree at the University of Pittsburgh. A trip out to the Beaver Run Motorsports Complex for a race led to a meeting with principals of the Andersen/Walko Star Mazda team – and a job offer, starting immediately.
“When I started there, I worked upstairs in the loft, with a cardboard box as a desk,” she recalls. “That was one of my earliest lessons about racing at the professional level; you have to be willing to start at the very bottom and do whatever needs doing. Over the course of my time with them I learned not only about racing, but also about working with a team, working with data systems, writing contracts, doing budgets, creating sponsor proposals and a dozen other things. I was definitely thrown into the deep end, and loved every minute of it.”
Gundlach won Star Mazda’s prestigious Performance Friction ‘Crewman of the Year’ award when the Andersen/Walko team made its series debut in 2005. When the team split up, she continued working for Walko Racing (while simultaneously graduating from Pitt with a Mechanical Engineering degree) from 2006-2007 before moving to the newly-formed Goshen Racing Star Mazda team in 2008. That team only lasted one year and she was invited to join the Star Mazda Championship at its headquarters in Pacoima, CA as series Engineer, a position that also included project management and trackside support.
“Timing is everything,” says Lotus HVM Technical Director Tom Brown. “We had an opening available in our Engineering department and Kate came highly recommended. We had a chance to meet at Long Beach and everything clicked. Having her on board will clearly strengthen our group.”
About Lotus HVM Racing
HVM Racing was founded by Keith Wiggins and is based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The 2012 season marks its eleventh year of competition since forming in 2001. Since its inception, HVM Racing has earned six victories, two pole positions, 22 podiums, 40 top-five finishes and 97 top-tens. The team also earned “Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year” honors with current driver Simona De Silvestro in 2010. HVM finished fourth and third, respectively, in the Champ Car World Series in 2006 and 2007, and earned drivers Mario Dominguez and Robert Doornbos Rookie of the Year honors in 2002 and 2007, respectively. Lotus HVM Racing can be found online at www.hvmracing.com. Follow the team on twitter at www.twitter.com/HVMRacing and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HVMRacing.
About Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear
For 2012, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will be again be a major part of the Mazda Road to Indy. The 2012 schedule currently includes 17 races on 10 weekends, most with IndyCar. Rising stars from around the world will compete on road courses, street circuits and ovals in front of more than a million fans as they compete for prizes valued at $1.5 million, including a scholarship to move up and race in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights series. Drivers 16 and older are welcome to compete and the Star Mazda Championship also features the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older. The Star Mazda Championship features standing starts, wheel-to-wheel racing at 160 mph and budgets a fraction of other top open-wheel ladder series. For more information on the Star Mazda Championship please visit www.starmazda.com.
JWR's Kate Gundlach Honored as Star Mazda Crew Member of the Year Zartarian Scores Top Five at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TRAFFORD, PA (October 29, 2007) -- The 2007 Star Mazda Series closer at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was a successful effort for the John Walko Racing team both on and off the track with a top five finish, two top tens and a highly coveted year end award for crew member Kate Gundlach.
Gundlach, JWR's data acquisition engineer for all three entries, was awarded the Performance Friction Crew Member of the Year Award at the season ending awards banquet, a consensus award for the most valuable member of a particular team whose efforts have also benefited other teams and the series. For team owner John Walko, it was a much deserved award for an integral member of the team.
"We had a very good race weekend but the high point had to be Kate winning the Star Mazda Crew Member of the Year Award. It was a total surprise to everyone so it was very exciting for the team as well as Kate. This award is particular significant I think as it is voted on by peers and then the final decision is made by Star Mazda management. To even be considered for the award, let alone win it, requires impressing a lot of people along the way."
The award was also particularly important in that Kate is truly a homegrown talent. Like Walko, she is a Pittsburgh native with family ties to the local racing community. Her first professional work though was as an intern with JWR while working toward her mechanical engineering degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Along the way she has parlayed the opportunity in to a full time career that also involves the roles of team parts manager, test engineer and soon race engineer of the team's third car.
"I am proud of what Kate has accomplished. She came to the team with the raw tools and has developed in to an integral part of our organization. Kate is the second member of the team to have earned the Star Mazda Crew Member of the year award along with Caleb Stream. Developing talent outside of the car as well as inside is very important to our team and something we take considerable pride in."
Kate echoed the sentiments of her team owner regarding the team's approach.
"Winning this award was a big surprise to me! I have to thank John and the whole crew; they are responsible for developing me to where I am today and deserve the credit for this award. >From John to engineers Steve (Dreizler) and Eric (Langbein) to mechanics Caleb and Scott (Gates) each has invested time in helping me develop as part of this team. Their commitment to the overall team is what makes this group successful. I also have to thank John Walko Sr. and drivers Charles (Anti) and Russell (Walker) as well as their families. It has been a very rewarding experience working with everyone associated with John Walko Racing."
Of course the trip to Monterey, California involved more than the awards banquet as the team returned to a three car effort with Californian John Zartarian behind the wheel of the third car for the first time since the second round in Houston. Zartarian lead the way with a fifth place finish followed by Russell Walker in tenth.
According to Walko, the return to a three car effort always seems to provide an extra spark for the team.
"As usual the team works better with three cars, things were automatic, the atmosphere was more upbeat, everybody was doing their normal jobs and everything worked great. In all it was a pretty good weekend."
"Johnny did a great job, for only driving the car twice this year and to finish top five in this field is an accomplishment. He was actually second in one of the early sessions and that always helps to get all the cars moving forward. Russell had a good race as well, picking off some spots in the race and running a smart, clean race"
Both drivers found speed early, netting second fastest laps in different practice sessions. JWR's other full time entry Charles Anti had an uphill battle at times but was very fast on race day.
"Russell followed John's lead, setting the second fastest lap in the following session, and stayed in the top ten almost all weekend. Charles had a slow start on the weekend but moved up some spots early in the race and was running very quick laps. He was just all by himself after going off in turn five so his results didn't actually reflect how competitive he was in the race.
The team now moves in to the off season but does not plan on resting for long. Testing has already begun at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex with more dates being added to the schedule soon. There are also ongoing discussions about racing in the Star Mazda Winter Series that begins in November at Buttonwillow in California followed by dates at Firebird Raceway and Phoenix International Raceway in December and January respectively.
Drivers interested in testing or discussing racing plans for the Winter Series or the 2008 season should contact John Walko Racing as soon as possible.
It was a great weekend overall, I was really happy with a fifth particularly after our qualifying run. We picked up a few spots and hit my goal of a top five finish. All in all I was really happy with the way the race went but honestly thought I could have podiumed if it had stayed green. I have to thank John and the crew for a great weekend again."
"It was good to have a solid run at Laguna Seca to close out the season. We were quick early in practice and stayed close to the top ten all weekend. We missed a little in qualifying but I was able to drive back to tenth in the race. I was as fast as the cars directly in front of me but with the yellows near the end of the race, I never had a chance to move up any farther. I'd like to thank the team for this season; it was great to work with this crew for an entire year."
"Unfortunately we didn't end the season on a high note, finishing outside the top twenty, but we had a very fast race car that was able to run times as fast as the leaders as the laps wore down. At that point I was a lap down though after an off in to the gravel trap and was too far back to make up the ground to challenge for position. I learned a lot this year and had some great runs. I want to thank John and the team for a good season."
John Walko, Engineer for John Zartarian
"Johnny did a great job all weekend. He was second quickest in practice in just his second time behind the wheel of our car all year. To be able to hold his own, let alone compete with this field is an accomplishment in itself. With a few more laps of green flag racing he could have been looking at a podium finish. Hopefully we are able to work with John more in the future as he has the talent to compete and win in this series."
Eric Langbein, Engineer for Russell Walker
"We started the season with a goal of top ten in points and Russell did exactly what he needed to do to make sure we met those goals at Laguna Seca. He picked up five spots in the race and looked to have the speed to pick up more. Rather than taking unnecessary chances in the closing laps of the race though he showed the maturity to stay focused on the goal and finished with a tenth in the race and the Championship."
Steve Dreizler, Engineer for Charles Anti
"We didn't get up to speed as quickly as we needed to be which put Charles in the slow group in qualifying. Unfortunately that played a big role as the first qualifying group had a wet track to deal with and ended up drying the track for the fast group. Charles was considerably faster than anyone else in the first group but still a second and a half behind the slowest car in the second group. In the race we were as fast as the leaders but a lap down so the end result didn't reflect how good of a car we had."
Steve Welk Joins the Walko Stable for Road AmericaTesting and More Keeps Team Busy During Star Mazda Break
TRAFFORD, PA (July 30, 2007) – John Walko Racing will add a third car for their assault on th Road America when the Star Mazda Series returns to the storied venue on August 11 . Steve Welk will join Charles Anti and Russell Walker for his first Star Mazda race.
Team owner John Walko has a long history with Welk however and is confident his newest driver will be able to deliver on short notice.
"I've know Steve since we raced in the Zetec Series and I was impressed with him back then. He has a solid background from Karting Championships to Formula Ford. That is his home track, he lives there actually, and he has a lot of local support. We'd love to have it grow in to a bigger program for Steve but I'm excited to have him for Road America at least."
Walko has good reason to be excited about Welk's prospects at Road America. The Wisconsin native competed at Road America in the Formula Ford Cooper Tires Championship Series in 2006 and scored second and third place finishes in the two races. Impressive results for any weekend but more impressive in light of the fact that it was the only open wheel races Welk ran in 2006.
Welk will also enter the race with the benefit of a day of testing in a variety of conditions as Walko noted.
"Steve tested very well at BeaveRun. We were able to get him a significant amount of seat time in wet, dry and drying conditions and he ran competitive times throughout the day."
The test not only served to acquaint Welk to the Star Mazda machine but also enabled him to get comfortable with the JWR crew.
"I thought the team and everything worked tremendously well. I've wanted to work with John for a few years now after running with him in Zetec so it was really cool to be able to do the test. I felt I had a good balance with the car and I think a good base of information with the car going in to Road America."
Welk brings more than just talent to the table when it comes to Road America however as he has countless laps on the 4.048 mile, 14 turn course.
"Going to Road America I think I have a lot of good information on the track since I spent so much time there. I know John will put a good car underneath me so I'm pretty excited. I'm looking for a top five and we're perfectly capable of doing that despite the tough field in Star Mazda right now. John's team is a lot of fun to work with and I'm really excited about running with them there, I can't wait!"
While the Star Mazda Championship Series has not raced since the July 7th round at Toronto, the JWR team has not had any problems finding ways to stay busy.
Testing has continued with JWR's duo of regular drivers. Russell Walker visits Road Atlanta in preparation for the upcoming race there on October 5th while Charles Anti has been in the car several times at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex.
Anti's tests have also given the team the chance to further develop Kate Gundlach's engineering talents. Gundlach, the team's data acquisition specialist, is being groomed as the team's third engineer according to Walko.
"We have been using these tests to get Kate more experience turning the knobs on the car as well, doing some more engineering. She'll be our third engineer; that has always been the plan for her. It's been interesting as Kate has been learning how the car works from the data end first while the rest of started life as mechanics. She is coming at it from a different perspective which should be a benefit to the whole team in the long run."
Gundlach continues to take advantage of all of her opportunities including recently participating in the fifth annual Women in the Winner's Circle program hosted by Lyn St. James. The event honoring women in motorsports took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400 festivities.
The team has also taken part in several corporate events and driving programs at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex. Participants are able to see exactly how the team operates by interacting with the mechanics and the drivers as well as having the chance to see and analyze data and video with the engineers. Many have also been fortunate enough to leave with the once in a lifetime opportunity to climb behind the wheel of one of the Star Mazda machines.
While these types of programs may not yield on track performance gains they are instrumental in demonstrating the team's ability to excel in other areas besides the racetrack, a critical element to operating a successful race team in the current motorsports marketplace.
Drivers interested in joining JWR for upcoming tests are encouraged to contact the team soon. Also, drivers interested in discussing the remaining 2007 races or a 2008 racing program should contact John Walko Racing at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Shelli Messer, Pitt News
July 6, 2005
NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. – Starting out in a sport — or a career — is usually difficult, but for Kate Gundlach, all it took was dialing one phone number.
Actually, it was a little harder than that for the 21-year-old Allison Park, Pa.-native, but not that much. Motorsports have always been in Gundlach’s blood. Both of her parents’ families love motorcycles.
“I’ve grown up with racing,” Gundlach said. “I have been around it longer than I can remember. It’s been accepted into the family. I fell in love with it, though, when I joined the University of Pittsburgh’s Formula [Society of Automotive Engineers] team.”
That love for racing sparked her to pursue a future in the sport.
“I wanted to get into auto racing, but I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I was handed John Walko’s card at a Formula SAE event, and I took it straight back to my dorm room. I checked out his Web site and gave him a call.”
Walko is co-owner of a formula car racing team that competes in several series, including fielding four cars in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear for drivers Graham Rahal, Robbie Pecorari, Jonathan Klein and Pablo Donoso.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want. I have to be in this,'” Gundlach said. “All it took was a phone call. I had my interview, and [Walko] told me that I’d start the next day. I was so excited.”
As part of a co-op program with Pitt, Gundlach, now a senior mechanical engineering student, is in her second year as an intern for Andersen Walko Racing based in North Versailles, Pa., and Fairfield, N.J. She holds the title of data acquisition specialist and works with the Pi Research system.
A data acquisition specialist downloads computer-generated information regarding the car itself, such as steering, speed, throttling, ground speed, engine diagnostics, and where and when the driver is shifting gears. Gundlach then either looks for what problems the car is having or comments on what could be improved.
For Walko, hiring Gundlach was an easy decision. He believes she’ll leave with the experience needed to take her career to the next step.
“Racing looks different from the outside,” Walko said. “I want her to take with her the knowledge of how a race team works. She will go knowing what the real thing is.”
Two years after being hired, Gundlach has already had the opportunity to work for a professional racecar team, a privilege most mechanical engineering students will never experience. She also has been given the chance to work with Rossella Manfrinato, one of the most accomplished female racing engineers AWR hired this spring.
“Oh my word, it’s amazing,” Gundlach said in response to working with Manfrinato. “She has so much experience and knowledge. I have learned so much from her, and I’m so lucky to be working with her.
“She has such an in-depth knowledge of every element of the car,” Gundlach continued. “She’s always thinking of the next step. She’s such an all-around awesome person.”
Gundlach loves the people who surround her at AWR. Even as a woman, she feels she and Manfrinato are treated with the utmost respect.
“It’s easy to forget that I am a woman with this team,” Gundlach said. “It’s easier having Rossella around. She has so many credentials that everyone knows and respects her. As for the team, they are wonderful. I treat each of them like a crew member, and they treat me like a crew member. They are so easygoing that it makes them easy to get along with.”
As if balancing school and a full-time job isn’t hard enough, Gundlach has also been a member of Pitt’s Formula SAE team for the last three years. She is the leader of the group responsible for the drivetrain in the team’s car.
“SAE is an organization that includes around 150 teams worldwide,” Gundlach explained. “The Formula SAE events allow college students to engineer, design and drive small, formula 500-size cars. It is a one-race event, but the car must finish other competitions such as endurance, autocross, accelerations, etc.
“I really don’t know how I balance it all,” Gundlach said. “I tend to think I handle it well. I can’t focus on things too long, so having lots to do makes it easier to go back and forth. I love what I do. I try to be as involved as possible while keeping up with school. It motivates me when I know that I can learn more. Plus, caffeine helps a lot.”
Gundlach, who has one more year of engineering studies, isn’t sure where she will end up next.” No matter what direction she decides to make, she knows racing will be involved.
“I would like to get my master’s degree, but I have to find the money and the time,” she said. “I want to be a racecar engineer and work my way up the ladder.”
Of course, Andersen Walko Racing would love to see Gundlach stick around once she graduates.
“She has what it takes to work on a race team,” Walko said.
“I have more confidence from working here [AWR],” she said. “You learn more about yourself with racing. What can I say? Racing is my life.”
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