After more than a decade in IndyCar, alumna Kate Gundlach BSMechE '06 has the experience and clout to hold one of the sport’s top engineering jobs and work for one of its most talented, unpredictable drivers. It’s a wild ride.
Written by April Johnston | Photography by Tom Altany/Pitt Photography
Originally published in Pittwire. Read the full article here.
Kate Gundlach stands on the sunbaked track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, bracing a tablet against her hip. She’s debating with driver Pato O’Ward about the merits of maintaining momentum through turn seven.
She knows laying off the brakes is a gamble — drivers have crashed out for less. But it may be just what O’Ward needs to shave those precious tenths of a second off his time and challenge the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series for the coveted pole position — the most advantageous starting position on the track — on qualifying day at the Gallagher Grand Prix.
“That’s playing with fire, bro,” O’Ward says, grinning and peering down at Gundlach’s tablet. “How much are we losing?
“It’s just a tenth,” Gundlach assures him.
O’Ward sighs and grabs the brim of his baseball cap with both hands, still unsure: “Gotta pick your fights, you know?”
Gundlach does know. She’s been an IndyCar engineer since 2012 and O’Ward’s performance engineer at team Arrow McLaren for nearly four years. Her job is to use data and driving simulations to devise strategies that will improve his lap time and, ultimately, notch wins. Together, she and the fiery, unpredictable 24-year-old racing phenom have been through some really high highs — like contending for the series championship in 2021 — and some pretty low lows — like crashing out at the Indianapolis 500 on this very track in May. Every decision, every tweak, every tap of the brakes could be the difference between landing on the podium or heading back to the pit. In this seesawing 2023 season, they’re intimately familiar with both outcomes.