A RACING LIFE: HOW KTM’S FEMALE EXCELLENCE HELPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE IN MOTOGP™
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing is a team punching its weight in the ‘prize’ division of MotoGP™. It is a collective of almost fifty full-time people of different ages, nationalities, cultures and genders. The grand prix paddock is a strange environment: a mini society of diverse backgrounds, educations, beliefs. Most of all it is a home of expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm for sport, bikes and competition.
In the technical side of the garage each person has a specific role to play in helping Pol Espargaro and Mika Kallio find the precious tenths of a second they need in the nineteen rounds of the FIM World Championship. (Even) in 2019, motorcycle racing – and perhaps international level motorsport on the whole – is a male dominated world but KTM are one of the very few elite level squads to subvert that trend and depend on the nuance and skills of at least three women to help make their MotoGP™ project tick. We decided to ask Data Strategy Engineer Jenny Anderson from Britain, Analyst Andrea Cantó and Team Coordinator Beatriz Garcia both from Spain about their jobs and how people – not just women – can hope to follow their path and work at the peak of motorcycling competition.
OK, first of all tell us about the day-to-day work in Red Bull KTM Factory Racing …
Jenny Anderson: For me I guess there are two parts: there is the bit at home – which is preparation for the event and the analysis after the event – and then there’s the work around data at the track itself. Leading up to a GP I will look at data from previous days at a circuit and I’ll try and prepare a base. I am the link between the engine and the rider. If you gave the rider just a cable from his hand to the engine then it would be hard to handle because there is so much power in these bikes. So I tweak the torque levels corner-by-corner, the traction control, the wheelie control and the engine braking to make it easier for him to ride and for better performance. I do all of this as a base before we arrive to a GP and then I work with Pol during a session and he will say “I need more,” I need less” and we tune as we go along.
Andrea Cantó: I do the tire analysis for all four KTM riders. I talk to the Crew Chiefs and they tell me the plan they have for the tires for the day and then they supply me with the comments from the riders. We try to analyze the data to see if everything is in line and then make a plan for the next day and eventually for Sunday. The target is to figure out which tire will be the best for the race because some will have a very high performance in the beginning but then drop a lot faster, some have less performance but more consistency. It is about trying to find the one for each racetrack. I’ve worked for nine seasons in racing and was a long time inMoto2™; there it was simpler and we only had two specs of tire instead of three. I was a data engineer then so doing analysis in general and not only on tires.
Beatriz Garcia: I have responsibilities at the circuit and I am always working because I am ahead of everybody and also focussing on the next events. When I’m here in the paddock we travel Tuesday and set-up everything on Wednesday so everybody can work. Then I start with organization of the paddock passes for guests and sponsors. I’m booking all the flights and hotels and moving everybody from one place to another. Usually it is around 50 people and sometimes the WP guys and Moto3™ because I am the connection with the factory. Then things like hiring grid girls. It is more the human side of the racing team; anything away from the spares, parts and bikes I take care of.
Jenny: The electronics department is quite a broad range of people. Each rider will have a strategy person and then there is someone who is the overall manager and will be the link between us as well as giving help and advice with our job. We also have people working on the electronic hardware and doing the tools. The cause of any difficulty for the rider is not just electronics because they work with the chassis and also the suspension. But if there is a problem that can be fixed by electronics then they will be looking right at you.
Andrea: It was a big change for me moving from that Moto2™ role. At the beginning I wondered ‘do you really need one person to analyze tires?’ but I don’t get bored or have time to get bored! It’s worth having that person. It might not change the result but it makes the Crew Chief’s job easier. What I have learned this year is that you get a general perspective of what is happening on the four bikes but not really the specifics of any single one; it is a bit of a different picture.
Beatriz: The professionalism of a factory team compared to a Moto3™ team – where I worked before and you are always trying to stretch a euro to the maximum – is huge and I was scared in the beginning about how big the job would be. Also it was all-new. I set up my own system – like my colleagues – but it turned out to be very easy because everyone is so professional and experienced. It’s easy to work with these guys. Obviously there are still fires to put out, but people can focus on entirely on their jobs and if there is any other kind of problem then I will solve it.
So how did you reach the confines of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing?
Andrea: I wanted to work in MotoGP™. I wanted to be able to learn new stuff. I approached the team to ask if they needed anyone and they were full but I ended up being lucky because they had the budget for one more person.
Jenny: I joined the project in 2015, before we had a MotoGP™ bike, and from working in the factory full-time and the electronics department. I have seen the RC16 go from zero to where we are now. I had quite an open role. My manager said “here’s the ECU for the bike we are going to build in the next six months, get something ready so it can run”. So it was a bit of everything, working with the guys on the engine on the dyno, connecting sensors, making test harnesses: it was much more hands-on at that time. Then we started testing with Mika and I was the data engineer for the test team, I then did a year in that same job for Pol and now I’m the strategy engineer for Pol.
Beatriz: My first GP year was 2011 and my previous team used to buy the Moto3™ bikes from KTM so I had a lot of dealings with them and liked the way they worked. In 2016 I met Mike [Leitner, Team Manager] at the Catalan GP, and in September I had confirmation and started in October.
Andrea: The first three or four months I had a full overload of information. There were so many new things. You try to ‘push them in’ but there is no space! It slowly starts to sink in and I still don’t know half of the things that are possible with these bikes. The good thing about being here is that you can see and feel the development. Everybody is doing something that has almost started from zero. In another place I think you would just be handed an established platform with less room to grow.
It must be tough for anybody to break into this world and work in this paddock…
Andrea: I went to college and then did the Monlau engineering school [famous institution in Spain]. I’m sorry to say but I think there is a big percentage of luck, especially when you don’t know anyone in the paddock. That was my case. What happened was that one week before an IRTA test somebody dropped out of a team and they could not find a replacement at that stage because everyone else with experience was taken. So they took the risk in giving a job to a newcomer. I think the teachers at Monlau recommended me and I got lucky. There are more and more motorcycling engineering course available now and post-graduate courses.
Jenny: I grew up in motor racing. My Dad built kit-cars and my older brother got into karting. He was like a god to me and everything he did I wanted to do. At ten I started karting and started doing data almost as a hobby; I never realized it could lead into a job like I have now. I went from having one sensor to measure the RPM on my kart to looking at the gears and analyzing speed on different corner exits. It evolved as I added more sensors and got more information. I volunteered and did work for other people with data. When I left college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and ended up going to university quite late; I was 22 when I went to study motorsport engineering at Oxford Brookes University. I was working at a car racing team in F3 at the same time and the World Series by Renault. I worked with Kevin Magnussen in my first year actually. I then worked with them full time until this project came up with KTM.
Beatriz: Contacts are everything. You need them in this world. You can be very good but if nobody knows you then you won’t get the chance to start. My nationality helped because I was able to start in the Spanish championship, that has a good profile. For the MotoGP™ class it is even harder because you need experience and other people in the paddock will ask about you.
Andrea: In the end it is a high percentage of people coming back every year and rotating around the paddock. Even for me it was not easy to find a job in the MotoGP™ class. I knew others in Moto2™ because you have people with the same schedule. When other bikes are running you don’t pay attention and you miss the window to network. Talking about the job then I think you can learn different roles. If you have good knowledge then I think you can learn to do other stuff.
What’s the sacrifice?
Beatriz: Everybody has their needs in this big group. I try to get to know everybody a little bit just to know preferences, interests, who has family and so on. It sounds stupid but the travelling is part of the job that is tiring and time-consuming. I cannot do much about a cancelled flight but I will try to do what I can to make sure people are happy getting to their job.
Andrea: I think it is a kind of lifestyle where if you cross a mark then you don’t know how to do anything else, or to have a normal 9-5. I wouldn’t like to cross that point but it is difficult to know! You get so used to it, and even when we have built the garage then your place to work is always the same. It is a strange lifestyle. For people that stop working here then I think it is because the travelling finally ‘got’ to them. For the moment I am OK. I don’t mind the travelling but I know if I want to have a family then it will be difficult and I think for most of the women that left the paddock then this was the reason. I think, in some ways, we can be very equal with gender in this world but there is not much we can do about physical differences!
Jenny: It’s not really a job: it’s a life choice. I’ve always spent a lot of weekends at a racetrack because it’s what I love to do. My friends don’t really understand what my job is and how many hours we work. People assume we turn up on a Friday, work a couple of 45 minute sessions and then we leave. Many don’t realize how much goes into it, and not just from us but also at the factory. People are working long hours all the time to achieve what we achieve. There is not a lot of downtime!
Beatriz: When I talk about my job then a lot of people don’t know much about bikes. They tend to think I am just travelling around and visiting all these places. Other people who know about racing think it is very exciting and they are quite surprised sometimes. Nobody really knows what it is like behind the scenes.
What’s it like being part of this multi-national and eclectic race team?
Andrea: I think with this job you also get to appreciate that there are good and bad points about everybody and every nationality. The Spanish are supposed to be lazy, the Italians are supposed to be cocky, the Austrians are supposed to be super-scheduled and you kind of appreciate that there is a truth to these thoughts but also there isn’t at all I like working with people from everywhere.
Jenny: Often we spent sixteen hours a day for three days in a row with the same people. It’s important to be able to get-on. It is a hard job anyway but if we didn’t have this family atmosphere then it would be tougher. Away from the track we are a good group and we socialize a lot. There is a lot of camaraderie. It’s a big part of the job; when you get chosen then it is as much for how well you’ll fit into the team as for what or how much you know. You need positive and motivated people.
Beatriz: I love it actually. You get to know different cultures and you can see how different we all are. There are stereotypes…and generally they are true!
Andrea: My mum made me take English lessons from when I was eight! Normally the people here who know another languages then don’t have too much difficulty to pick up another one; it’s incredible actually. Franco Morbidelli can speak anything and Miguel [Oliveira] speaks Spanish, English, Italian and French: where does it all come from?! I’m super-jealous.
Beatriz: I never found any bad attitudes or reactions to me. I think you need to be quite open to fit into a team and people will respect you, especially if you can do a good job.
Jenny: From my experience in cars, drivers often bring the money for a single-seater one-make series spot and it gives them a lot of clout about whom they want to work with. They might not want to work with a woman or it’s because your face doesn’t fit or you are English, Spanish or French. Here or anywhere I don’t think gender really comes into it much any more or no more than any other sport. When I was karting I’d be the only girl in a paddock of two hundred people and I have seen – just in my lifetime – how many more women are now working in motorsport both as drivers or engineering and that can only be positive.
Images: Sebas Romero, KTM