We speak to Leena Gade, Federation Internationale De Lautomobile (FIA) Commission Ambassador for Women in Motorsport and Audi Sport Team Lead Race Engineer!
What do you find most appealing about engineering?
I very much appreciate the aspects of innovation, creativity and how to think about resolutions for problems. There are a variety of challenges that can occur and a variety of highly complex technologies. I relish this task
Were your family members supportive of your decision to pursue engineering as a career?
My family always gave me the best support. There was never anything my sisters and I could not do as females.
Did you dream of building race cars when you were young? If not, how were you introduced into the world of motorsports?
I have always been interested in physics and in solving problems. Also, I had a thorough interest to find out how things worked. So the dream did not come from motorsports. But when I started watching Formula 1, I got interested in racing. The link to engineering was generated when I started learning what roles engineers do have in the development of race cars, I got to know all that from motorsport television coverage and from reading technical magazines.
Are you in love with racing?
For me, it is clear that you cannot do this job and master all the challenges if you are not passionate about it.
Could you share some advantages that women have over men when it comes to motorsports?
Frankly, I wouldnt say that there are advantages. Its rather that we follow more different ways of approaching issues, be it personal aspects or when it comes to solving problems. Perhaps women are less ego driven and instead more focussed to have the best performance for the team. My opinion is that we can achieve this through maximising each individual’s performance. Another strength that I would claim for women is that we have the ability to admit it if we don’t know something, or that if we are not sure, we ask for help.
Have there been guys who “give you a tough time” – eg: disregarding your findings, ignoring your comments, etc.If any, how did you deal with them?
Fortunately, I have not really been in that situation. Plus, I like to prove that I can do the job and that I can do it well. If I am in a situation where someone doesn’t want to listen, I tend to view that as shortsighted on his part. But I make sure to allow anyone the possibility to come back and ask for information at another time.
What do you feel are the biggest hurdles faced by women today, if they want to excel in a male dominated industry? What do you reckon can be done for women to overcome those hurdles?
One issue I would say is that some men have suggested that two women on the same car team would not work due to feeling threatened. But that suggestion coming from a man with no experience of being a woman is illogical. I believe that women can be their own worst critics and already judge themselves as not being capable of the job or challenging opinions. We also focus too heavily on what we have done, not what we could do so often we don’t push ourselves into the limelight or towards more senior positions.
Who would you consider to be your toughest competitor today, on the track and off?
On track I would say it is complacency that the others will get it wrong or are not capable and that I will always be okay. But if that leads to not preparing yourself properly, then mistakes will happen. I never assume that I am right and I am always aware that mistakes are easily made. Off track, the toughest competition is losing focus of what is important and not having a healthy worklife balance. It is very easy in this industry to be ruled by work schedules.
For years, we’ve been told that a lot of aerospace technology trickles into the racing world – have there been any racing technologies that have found their way into the aerospace industry?
Motor racing is governed by very specific rules. Car designs have to adhere to those rules. So honestly, more is borrowed from aerospace as continuous development is a core part of aerospace industry.
Could you name the three most significant innovations from the motorsports that have found their way into a road-going car?
First, engine technology has pioneered aspects from performance up to efficiency nowadays. Second, new materials for lightweight but strong structures and alternative brake materials have been used in motorsport first and are now available for road cars. Third, safety is a key aspect. Basic car body designs now feature integrated roll structures to maximise driver and passenger protection. In the case of Audi, by the way, several specific technologies have directly been transferred from racing to road cars, such as the quattro four-wheel drive system in the 1980s, the FSI direct fuel injection or the latest Audi laserlight technology that we use at Le Mans.
What are the challenges of using a diesel engine in racing instead of petrol?
Balancing the performance of both diesel and petrol engines in a fair way is tough when open rules allow nearly any engine technology to be developed, especially when only one diesel competitor takes part. The driveability of a diesel is much different to that of a petrol engine as the diesel offers much less engine braking, high torque which affects power delivery at the driven wheels, and you’ve got challenging weight issues. In the past, the image of diesel powertrains has been that its dirty, noisy and not a proper racing technology. Audi has pioneered its TDI technology at Le Mans since 2006 though. After eight Le Mans wins since then, Audi has transformed this perception and endurance racing has turned into the perfect forum to showcase the advantages of diesel power. Its clean, silent and an excellent racing technology.
Lets talk about the future – do you see diesel replacing petrol as the fuel of choice?
Over the years, diesel sales increased with engine efficiency and with the performance challenging or even surpassing the performance of petrol engines. The range offered from diesel power outclassed petrol cars. In recent times, the image of the dirty diesel has improved as well. We must not forget that sales will be influenced strongly by fuel prices and fiscal aspects, so lower petrol prices offer an incentive to customers in the short term to opt for petrol powered cars. Electric power is an alternative that in combination with fossil fuel powered cars offers other advantages. Alternative fuels to conserve precious resources will be the next technology to investigate in times when depleting fossil fuel resources becomes more critical.
How do you think motorsports will change, now that going green” is a global hot topic?
Motorsports needs to relate to the average customers’ needs especially given the high investments. But that is already taking place. Audi has been the first manufacturer to win Le Mans with a diesel engine in 2006 and with a hybrid racing car in 2012. Since 2006, we have reduced the racing cars fuel consumption by 38 per cent at Audi and even drive faster than eight years ago. The aim has been to find a balance that regulations encourage the manufacturers to produce highly efficient powertrains and vehicles whilst keeping the element of racing and high end technology interesting and entertaining to fans. Green racing has also influenced how race drivers have to drive the cars. If the new style is not relevant to drivers, there is no understanding of what the regulations and motor racing are trying to achieve.