Back to the Rally Roots – Interview with Teena Gade

Extreme E Special Series

As early as June 2021, when Extreme E, the new all-electric off-road championship was only two rounds in, legendary motorsport brand McLaren announced that it would be joining the second season. Then in early November, McLaren confirmed Multimatic as its vehicle dynamics partner in this new chapter, with 3-time Le Mans 24h winner Leena Gade as race engineer and former F1 and rally engineer Teena Gade as performance and systems engineer.

Before the double-header at Sardinia, we had the opportunity to talk to both Leena and Teena. Today we bring you the conversation with Teena, see what she shared about her long career in motorsport and this new experience in Extreme E.

Photos © NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team

Growing up in the UK with a short stint in India as a child, Teena’s passion for motorsport engineering from a young age has now been a well-known story among fans. However, even though Teena knew she wanted to be an engineer in motorsport, what Teena envisioned for herself turned out to be something she found boring later, after reaching it through a winding path. “I wanted to be an aerodynamicist. When I started in the sport, I worked initially as a data engineer. Then I worked for a touring car team where in addition to the data engineer work I was also doing design work in the factory. It turned out I was terrible at mechanical design. It was fine, at least I know I shouldn’t do that. I then worked a lot on projects in control systems side of things. I finally got myself a job as an aerodynamicist with Williams Formula 1 team (in 2007). It involved quite a lot of full-size testing and also a little bit of front-wing design. It turned out I hated aerodynamics. It’s a quite boring subject to work in.”

Even though realizing what she dreamed for wasn’t actually the dream job for her, Teena found some silver lining through her time as an aerodynamicist and worked out what she was truly passionate about in motorsport engineering. “Since part of my job then was in front-wing development, doing design work and testing for that work, I got quite familiar with the vehicle dynamics department having spoken to them a lot. I thought, you know what, I like the sound of vehicle dynamics far more than anything else.”

Having found what was truly made for her in this world, Teena set out to be a performance engineer with a focus on vehicle dynamics in rallying, before returning to Formula 1 and continuing her role in vehicle dynamics. “When I went to interview for Prodrive, they already had a brilliant vehicle dynamics person. So I went in as a race engineer. They recommended me to be a performance engineer involved with work on the development side. From that point on, I’ve just been focusing more on the vehicle dynamic simulation sorts of things.”

Teena has been mostly out of the spotlight in motorsport in recent years as she works more in the background on simulation, rather than at the track, in the heated moment of each race. But with Extreme E, she gets to experience the sand, the mud, the rock, and how the car reacts to all those things and more, right at the scene. It is also an opportunity to return to her rallying root after many years. “I’ve mostly been doing up until now background work as opposed to being at the track. I’m much more of a number’s person. Rallying is kind of my first passion, I can’t help myself when it comes to a rally car. This is basically why I joined Extreme E. It is quite an interesting series, the use of an electric car off-road. Car architecture is quite interesting as well. It’s a bit of a challenge. On top of that, it also gets me out of the house, I suppose.”

In addition to moving from the background back to trackside, Teena’s work in Extreme E is also more focused on data analysis. There is a lot she could draw from her past experience, but it still presents some new challenges. “In simulation work, you have knowledge of the design, you build your simulation platform and your models. You have to use all of that knowledge to understand what the car is doing. Having that very mathematical background in terms of modeling and simulation is actually very, very helpful as a performance engineer. Now I can focus more on data analysis. The difference is that I used to mainly write code for the purposes of simulation, not for analyzing things. So I still have to do quite a lot of work to keep on top of that.”

By the time of our conversation, Teena has only experienced the Desert X Prix firsthand, as the Island X Prix was postponed. As the one and only new team this season, Teena learned all about how an X Prix worked with everyone on the McLaren team. “First of all, it was about figuring out how it all works. When you’ve never done one, you have all kinds of ideas of what will happen. Of course, at the actual race weekend, nothing happens the way you think it’s gonna happen. I guess that was the biggest surprises. Now you’ve done one, then you understand what happens when. Now it’s all clear. At the Desert X Prix, the only person on the team that knew what they were doing was Emma, who raced last year.”

Before we let Teena go on to prepare for the busy Island X Prix double-header, we asked the veteran motorsport engineer to give some advice to people who dream of getting involved. Here is what she said. “There are a lot of people say they want to be in motorsport, but they not necessarily have an appreciation for engineering. I think I would advise that you learn engineering first, and then decide whether you want to be in motorsport. After all, motorsport is just one very small part of engineering. Engineering fundamentals apply across the board, the better you are at engineering understandings, the more likely you are to do well in something like motorsport.”

At the Desert X Prix, McLaren was able to make it into the Final through Crazy Race. Even though they were not able to finish the race in the Final, it was already an incredible achievement as a newcomer in the championship. Let’s see what they can do at the Island X Prix double-header!

We will also bring you the interview with Leena Gade later this month, stay tuned!

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