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 Pittsburg, 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.
Official Star Mazda Press Release
STAR MAZDA PRODUCES A DIFFERENT KIND OF GRADUATE – ENGINEER KATE GUNDLACH SIGNS WITH IZOD INDYCAR’S HVM RACING
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 Pittsburg, 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.