Motor Mouth: Infiniti finds its F1 engineer star, and it’s not me

Canadian students participating in F1 Academy deal far better with the stress than David Booth

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I am in my office. At least I think it’s my office. Wherever I am, I have a desk, a computer and, Lordy, look at me blinging it, a Rolodex. Judging by the call I get announcing that I have a visitor I even have an administrative assistant. So it would appear that I am at least somewhat successful.

Unfortunately, that’s all about to end, because no sooner do I hang up that phone than the door to my semi-palatial suite opens and in walks …

Julius Lukasiewicz, my third-year Carleton University fluid dynamics professor and terror of my graduating dissertation on Anti-lock Brakes for Motorcycles. He informs me there’s been a terrible mistake. “Our records show,” he says, obviously delighting in finally getting retribution for my dissing him at my thesis presentation, “that you’re still one course credit short of your mechanical engineering degree. You must come back and take another [cue Vincent Price in full House on Haunted Hill form] mid-term.”

David Booth takes the exam

David Booth takes the exam

That, my friends, is my definition of a nightmare. Indeed, it is the only nightmare I have ever had, my nightly repose blissfully absent of ghouls, slashers and divorce lawyers. And while you might think engineering professors bearing term papers are not worthy of serious phantasm, I wake up in a cold sweat every time I hear Professor Lukasiewicz’s deep Polish accent. It often takes me five or 10 minutes to realize that, no, I haven’t sunk into some degree-less dystopian abyss and, even then, fully cognizant that it is but a case of night terrors, I remain shaken to the core.

I have to take another f***ing exam.

The question, then, if this is indeed my definition of bedtime Armageddon, why have I, almost 35 years to the day I last walked out of the Mackenzie Engineering Building on Carleton’s bucolic Rideau Canal campus, volunteered to take another freaking engineering exam? Why subject myself, in real life, to the one act that haunts my otherwise peaceful slumber?

Because, without succumbing to said multiple-choice misery, I would not have had the honour of meeting the future of Canadian automotive engineering, to interact with the 10 budding young Canadian engineers whose passion, ability and now, thanks to Nissan Canada, opportunity, will show the world that our country excels at more than maple syrup and stick-handling hard rubber disks across frozen ponds.

The occasion was the finals of the first Canadian rendition of Infiniti’s Engineering Academy (IEA), a competition that saw those 10 lucky engineering undergraduate students vie for every motorsport fanatic’s dream job, an engineering position on a Formula One team. So envious had I been of the opportunity — the covetousness in my previous Motor Mouth is there for everyone to view — that, as a sop, Nissan Canada allowed me to actually partake in — not just report on — the multi-faceted competition. But what started out as the (pretend) fulfillment of a lifetime dream, morphed into meeting some of the finest, smartest people ever to don pocket protectors:

Alexander Grant, a Concordia University student from Kirkland, Quebec, who started restoring a 1991 Nissan Skyline — yes, the right-hand-drive precursor to Nissan’s fearsome GT-R — when he was 17.

Zeyad Hazem Saleh, studying computer engineering with no automotive experience, but brimming with the confidence of excelling in hack-a-thons — no surprise here; it seems computer engineers, fortified with Red Bull and pizza, can spend as much as 48 hours running in front of a TFT screen — that he can help Renault Sport with its MGU-H and MGU-K, the hybrid motors in its problematic RS16 race car.

Raymond Alexander, a Ryerson University graduate now looking toward a Masters of Applied Science, equally confident — “I am used to going to a field without any knowledge and always coming up with the answer” — whose prime motivation was that “everyone knows that F1 is the pinnacle of automotive engineering.”

Some of the brightest young minds in Canada put their heads together at Infiniti’s Engineering Academy (IEA) for a chance at an engineering position on Infiniti's Formula One team.

Some of the brightest young minds in Canada put their heads together at Infiniti’s Engineering Academy (IEA) for a chance at an engineering position on Infiniti’s Formula One team.

Rachel Kendall, currently studying mechanical engineering at the University of Manitoba and the only contestant professing a love of dirt bikes (getting a full two thumbs up from you-know-who). Leader of her university’s Formula SAE effort — the Society of Automotive Engineers puts on a competition every year for a miniature race car — she used that knowledge to rip out the engine (SAE race cars are powered by motorcycle powerplants) and completely re-engineer its complicated electronic fuel injection system from scratch.

Antonio Badea, a mechanical engineering student from Concordia, who is inspired by a grandfather who was both an engineer and an economist — setting yourself lofty goals there, Tony! — who always seemed “to have the right answers for every question I asked him.”

Kevin Mazur, yet another mechanical engineering student from Winnipeg, whose introverted demeanor masked a burning passion for anything internally combusted and the challenge of tight deadlines. (You’ll see plenty of those in F1, Kevin!)

Santiago De La Rosa, a mechanical engineer studying at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering and the only candidate from Alberta, who worships Horacio Pagani and has a full four years of Formula SAE under his belt.

Ian Finlayson, who recently received his Mechanical Engineering degree from Dalhousie and who desperately wants to show his “love of competition” in an arena that attracts the very best engineers in the world.

Matteo Putt, a 19-year-old, first-year engineer who wowed everyone with his abilities and maturity. Matteo says he started researching aerodynamics when he was 10 or 11 years old (!) and, like so many budding engineers, drove his parents crazy with his insistence on taking apart everything in the house. Matteo’s parents probably heard his explanation — “I need to know how things work!” — more than we did.

Felix Lamy-Couturier won the Canadian rendition of Infiniti’s Engineering Academy (IEA), a competition that saw 10 lucky engineering undergraduate students vie for every motorsport fanatic’s dream job, an engineering position on a Formula One team.

Felix Lamy-Couturier won the Canadian rendition of Infiniti’s Engineering Academy (IEA), a competition that saw 10 lucky engineering undergraduate students vie for every motorsport fanatic’s dream job, an engineering position on a Formula One team.

And the winner, Felix Lamy-Couturier — a mechanical engineering student from McGill who was so keen he started building his own SAE race car before he entered university, and has already apprenticed as an engineer on two racing teams (Alex Healy Racing and Exclusive Autosport) before finishing his second year of university. What set Lamy apart from the other competitors, said the judges, was the sheer passion of his quest and his prominent position in turning around his team’s hybrid car (IEA’s main challenge is designing hybrid kit cars powered by various electrical energy sources).

What stood out, however, in the 36 hours we spent with these budding Adrian Neweys, is the breadth of their abilities. As Andy Todd, director of body and exterior engineering, Infiniti Technical Centre Europe, and one of the judges, said at the end of the competition, “Infiniti would be lucky to have any of these young talents working for them.”

Me? I failed the exam. No word when Professor Lukasiewicz is coming around again to rescind my engineering degree.

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