Zinia K

Shadowing Honda Performance Development (HPD) Engineers at the Long Beach Grand Prix

Two scholars in Athena Racing’s DRIVE driving sim training program, Abril Zapata and Makaela Cochran, worked directly with Honda Performance Development (HPD) Trackside Engineers Nicole Rotondo and Serena Halterman as part of a partnership to bring young girls interested in STEM careers close to their dreams during the 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. When they weren’t shadowing engineers as they were working with live data, they were capitalizing on other opportunities presented by HPD to learn from powerful women in the sport.

For the entire weekend, the Athenians shadowed Rotondo and Halterman getting hands-on experience to see what it takes to be a part of a race. From the hot pit lanes during practice and qualifying, what it takes to tune and refine a car, watching techs work on race cars, to even talking to drivers about being in the driver’s seat before and during a race.

“I realized how focused and observant you have to be when working with the data from an INDY car,” noted Zapata, who aspires to be a racing engineer in the future. “For example, you may see a wrong number for one segment of the data that you collect and input the wrong number, so you must constantly double check and be confident that your data from the car aligns with past data or with your co-workers. Each team member is responsible for a different section of the car, and they can tell if the car is having a malfunction through a graph. It is an incredible amount of work and attention to detail!

Wayne Gross of HPD created a special experience for the Athenians by assembling Q&A sessions with female STEM role models who work with Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosports. Both Athenians got to speak with a well decorated group of women in the sport, including Angela Ashmore, the Assistant Engineer of Chip Ganassi Racing. Ashmore spoke at length with the Athenians, graciously giving Zapata a direct career path to follow to realize her dreams as a race engineer. Zapata was able to see her in action with the team as the mechanics would prepare the car for the track as well as being with Angela at the timing stand when Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda was on track. Another influential female they got to speak to was Chip Ganassi’s Gearbox Mechanic Anna Chatten, who talked about what it took for her to work her way up to wrenching on race cars.

“I’ve learned so many amazing things, but the most important is how crucial it is to make connections and build relationships with everyone,” said Cochran. “I’ve also learned that it is so important to love who you work with. Everyone there seemed like a family, and they are, they’re with each other so many weeks out of the year. My first time at the track felt so surreal, everything was fast paced.”

Marissa Andretti, the granddaughter of Mario Andretti and serving as both the Vice President of Andretti Autosport and Managing Director for Andretti Technologies, also took time from her busy weekend to advise and counsel the Athenians. Speaking for the Public Relations aspect of motorsports was Andretti Autosport’s Senior Communications Manager Lindsay Lindsey, who reassured Zapata and Cochran that while engineering and tech is important, the teams’ image and relationship with the public is also crucial for success through fan engagement, storytelling, and more.

Lizzie Todd, Andretti Autosport’s Systems Engineer gave insight to the performance of the car and the path she took through college to gain the knowledge necessary for a job with this type of engineering background and skill sets.

“The weekend in Long Beach experiencing all of the job opportunities available was a life-changing experience!” said Zapata. “I didn’t know that so many positions at the track involve engineering. This experience opened my eyes to new opportunities I can pursue for my future career surrounding what I would love to do.”

“Athena Racing is THE club for young girls to join if they want to learn about all of the job opportunities available and the skill sets needed to do them,” said Athena Racing’s CEO & Founder, Loxley Browne. “We are creating career pathways into areas that very few females consider and the companies are eager for our talent pipeline! Watching their confidence grow and questions being asked more often as the weekend progressed showed all of the crews what a difference they were making in our Athenian’s lives. Little girls just need an opportunity to thrive, their curiosity and knowledge base grows being around adults who are so willing to share and give. Our summer camps will give girls from across the USA a chance to connect through our private social network while learning from industry leaders like HPD, Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Motorsports and more. The saying ‘if you build it they will come’ is true. Our Athenians are coming forward to be the voice of women in motorsports.”