MUR Blog - Working at SuperSprint Race Weekend
I am currently completing my final year project with MUR, along with a full workload. That aside, with a combination of being around MUR for a while and progressing to becoming the lead chassis engineer on our combustion car, coupled with really lucky timing, I’ve ended up as a data acquisition engineer for Prodrive, a V8 supercar team.
At Prodrive, I am responsible for doing data acquisition work for two Super2 Series Supercars and performing checks throughout race weekends to ensure the cars run reliably. As each car runs, sensors all around the car are logging the temperatures, pressures and operations of the car. During races, I am in the garage watching telemetry as well as downloading data from the cars each time they pit. Always a quite stressful but fun experience. My role also includes distributing the data to race engineers so that they can work on performance with the drivers. Each job on their own is quite simple but juggling downloading, distributing and analysing data on a schedule that does not stop makes the days extremely busy. Getting the car to run smoothly for the driver though is always worth it.
Here’s a quick snapshot of race weekend.
6th – 9th April
After the annual Tasmania SuperSprint race at Symmons Plains this weekend, I found myself totally knackered with no recollection of what university was like. I worked in the Dunlop Super2 Series which is the development series accompanying the Supercars Championship or main game. It is especially intense for the Dunlop Super2 Series cars as they have a practice, qualifier and race crammed all in the first day of racing. As a result, any bumps or crashes on the track carried throughout the weekend. This experience was really eye-opening; I found out that all of the data engineers around me did Formula SAE (FSAE) when they were in university themselves which was really encouraging. Here are some snaps of my time to show you how a professional racing team operates.
I thoroughly enjoyed waking up at 4:45am for my flight. This schedule is the norm for race weekends. We also had to wake up at around 6/6:30 am each morning.
Because I work in the Dunlop Super Series2, I am lucky in that the race weekends for this category are not as frequent as the main game races. The race weekends are also irregular; I just had a hectic month with two rounds so I was barely at university. Now I have several months off.
The track food was good for me. Everyone else hated track food in general. I always piled up my plate because it was so busy in between races and it would be normal to skip a meal if there was a lot to do.
The sunrises and sunsets were always nice. This was the view at 7 am in the morning looking out from the motel carpark, right before I hopped in our rental car to head to the track.
We wake up at the crack of dawn to go down to the race track before anyone else. The mechanics always have stuff to set up while I have to do pre-race checks. We also get up early for brekky! Depending on the day, we might have three, two or one race(s) in a day, which sets the pace for the day. On a busy day, I will be planning my time really carefully and none of us usually have time for lunch. On a day with one race, I will have time to slow down and take as many toilet breaks as I want.
I had an essay to write for university so I tried to type up some paragraphs after I got back to the motel each night. It was not fun. By the last night, the footy was on and I gave up writing anything good.
To the right are the Dunlop Super2 Series transports and to the left are the bays where each team sets up their garage. Normally there are people walking about but it was really rainy so no one wanted to be outside.
Whether it’s interstate or in Victoria, we head straight to the track and start setting up – luggage still in our vans. We set up walls that divide up the space between the teams, move equipment out of our transporter trucks and hook up lighting and power boards. We always arrive at the track at least a day before the spectators do to have a full day of just setting up.
Here’s a peek inside the tent with the flaps closed because it was raining. At this point, the race engineer, and I’m sure all teams, were still making the decision to run with wet tires or not.
The biggest decisions for the race engineer are which tyres to run in which race, and the tuning of the dampers and brakes. These decisions are then passed onto the mechanics, which fix up the car while doing their own maintenance on the cars. The big decisions trickle down to me when I do checks to ensure that the car is operational before a race. Once I download data from the cars after a race, the data gets sent to the race engineers for them to reassess the car. This results in a feedback loop of information, all to suit the car to the driver.
Besides mechanic stuff, other jobs include putting on stickers of sponsors on the cars and cleaning them so they look pretty. Sometimes a guy from Fox Sports loiters around with a camera.
The main game race garage. The screens in the background are for the senior crew. I have a similar set up opposite them (behind the tire rack on the left). Also featured are free bananas in the foreground and Mark Winterbottom in the green race suit.
The screens show the telemetry of the car. We can see the car going over a curb on TV but I can see how the dampers are performing as a result through telemetry. Mainly, we are making sure that the driver isn’t getting too hot, that the electrical systems/brakes/everything are working, watching the fuel get eaten up and praying we don’t run out, and keeping track of any issues that arise during a race.
One of my cars at the end of the weekend. You can see that the car got a bit beat up if you look closely.
As soon as cars are out of Parc Ferme, the mechanics are working on the cars, fixing them up to be ready for the next race. Unless the actual chassis and not just the bodywork is damaged, or a critical component is gone that cannot be replaced, the cars are usually out every race – sometimes patched up with duct tape.
Another car at the end of the round that did not fare well (not one of mine). The rear looked worse, trust me.
At the end of the round, the cars return to the transporters like this. It looks bloody dangerous, doesn’t it?
I’d like to conclude by saying that the experience has really opened my eyes as to how a professional racing team operates. Only through first-hand experience do I understand the high-pace yet long hours needed to make sure a car is running decently and consistently.
I have also learned the importance of the ease of assembly. If something is accessible and convenient to repair, then you’re probably going to complain less when something goes wrong. Finally, the most valuable skill I have learnt is the ability to work while sleep deprived.
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About the Author:
Lead Chassis Engineer, 2017
Junior Chassis Engineer, 2016