Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the great success of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system created by Tony George, Jr. and Jason Penix. While much emphasis is placed on the graduation of drivers from one series to the next, they’re not the only ones picking up skills and looking to advance into the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Drivers move up from karts or small formula cars such as the 1600cc Skip Barber machines into the USF2000 National Championship. From there, they step up to a higher-horsepower, more aerodynamic sensitive Star Mazda machine, and then into the 450hp, 190+ mph Firestone Indy Lights racers. A number of drivers have already demonstrated how successfully each of these series have prepared them for the next level of competition.
We need only to look at former Star Mazda champion, and Indy Lights driver Conor Daly and his first win in the highly competitive GP3 series. The IZOD IndyCar Series is now replete with graduates from these junior formula series, with the notable standouts being James Hinchcliffe, and former Indy Lights champions JR Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden.
Seldom given any airtime and recognition in the press, many of the mechanics and engineers in USF2000, Star Mazda, and Indy Lights are also seeking to move up the ladder and one day find themselves on the grid on Race Day morning as a participant in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
For one young engineer, that dream will be realized this month as Star Mazda Quality Control Engineer Kate Gundlach, a mechanical engineer graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, will join forces with Simona de Silvestro at HVM Racing beginning with this year’s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race as the teams Data and Electronics Engineer.
“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. 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.”
— Kate Gundlach, #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus/Dallara HVM Racing Data and Electrical Engineer
It’s fantastic to see the graduation of professionals of all kinds through the Mazda Road to Indy program. It benefits the teams at the higher levels by creating a pool of experienced and seasoned engineers and mechanics from which to recruit. It also benefits the teams at the lower levels by providing a clear and tangible avenue for career advancement beyond the initial job for which they were hired. Successful recruiting of the best talent means first having the ability to provide them with a dynamic career environment.
Ms. Gundlach’s example should be a ray of hope and a model for young aspiring race engineers.
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