A Coup For IndyCar, SPM & James Hinchcliffe

Lost in the midst of all of the Danica Patrick discussions that took place last week was this little tidbit that I considered a pretty big deal. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) hired well-known engineer, Leena Gade, to be the lead engineer for the car of James Hinchcliffe. Gade is a three-time winning engineer for Audi at the 24-hours of Le Mans.

Many are touting this as a wonderful thing because she is the first female lead engineer in the Verizon IndyCar Series. I guess it is a big deal since she’s the first. But what I think is a bigger deal is that Sam Schmidt was able to lure her to IndyCar, and specifically – his team. Truth be told, more than likely it was Piers Phillips, GM at SPM, that was responsible for convincing his friend Gade to come across the pond.

To be honest, I didn’t realize she was the first female in this role. Roaming through the pits and garage areas of various tracks, you see so many females that appear to be in some type of engineering role – I assumed this had already been accomplished. So, the fact that I don’t see her being a woman such a big deal – does that make me a backwards sexist or a forward-thinking man of the modern age? I would like to think the latter, but don’t answer that.

To me, the much bigger deal is that such an accomplished globally known racing engineer would come to IndyCar. To me, that is quite the coup.

Her story is interesting and impressive. Leena Gade was born in Perivale in the United Kingdom. When she was nine, her parents moved her and her sister Teena to India with them for three years. It was at this time that the two young girls developed an interest in engineering. When the family returned to the UK, Leena and Teena began watching Formula One on television. Leena admits she became obsessed with motor racing from an engineering standpoint at that time.

She started watching IndyCar in 1993, when Nigel Mansell came over to run with Newman/Haas as the defending World Champion.

Leena Gade graduated from the University of Manchester in 1998 with a Masters Degree in Aerospace Engineering. While working for Jaguar Cars, she worked part-time for various racing teams. She first won Le Mans as the lead engineer for Audi in 2011. She and Audi repeated the feat in 2012 and 2014.

Ironically, Gade was named FIA World Endurance Championship “Man of the Year” in December of 2012. In 2013, Leena Gade was named as an Ambassador for the FIA Commission for Women in Motorsport.

I’ve never been one to create subsets. I don’t look at Danica Patrick, Pippa Mann or Katherine Legge as women drivers. I look at them as drivers. Nor do I get too wrapped up over American drivers, French drivers or Brazilian drivers. To me, they are drivers. I obviously like American drivers since that’s where I’m from, but a driver’s nationality doesn’t decide whether I cheer for them or against them.

Two of my favorite drivers in recent years have been Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan. They both happen to be Brazilian. I don’t like them because they are Brazilian, nor do I dislike them because they aren’t American. I just like their personalities and admire their driving skills. It’s the same with women drivers. There are some I like and some I don’t necessarily care for. There are some that I think are really good drivers, and some that are a little short on talent. That’s pretty much the way I evaluate all of the athletes I follow in sports.

I don’t say that so-and-so is the best black quarterback or my favorite white wide-receiver. If I like their personalities or I think they are ultra-talented, I follow them. Now as we all know, some athletes can be super-talented, but can also be real jerks. It’s the same in racing.

It’s no surprise that some interpreted my post last week on Danica Patrick as me being a Danica-hater. While she may not be my favorite driver I was trying to leave that out of the point I was trying to make. I just didn’t think that she or anyone else should have an Indianapolis 500 ride handed to them. Now we all know that she has brought sponsorship from GoDaddy – her sponsor when she left IndyCar after the 2011 season. I said it last week and I’ll say it now – Good for her! She did it the way everyone else does these days. Now, if/when she gets a ride – it’ll be one she earned and didn’t have handed to her. I wish her well in her driving finale this May.

But I’m really excited about Leena Gade this season. It’s not because she’s a woman. I’m excited because I think one of the best racing engineers in the world is coming to IndyCar to be the lead engineer for James Hinchcliffe. And when she succeeds, I will not put her in a sub-category. No one should.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “A Coup For IndyCar, SPM & James Hinchcliffe”

  1. This is great news news now and will become even more so as 2018 season goes on. And some good news from Brazil: Bruna Tomaselli will be joining Team Pelfrey as a driver in the USF2000 series Bruna and Bia Special. And still more good news: Al Unser Jr. has joined Harding Racing as a driver coach for Gabby Chavez. So we get to see that big, goofy grin around the paddocks this season.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Gade will be the first female lead engineer in the present incarnation of the series, but I believe Diane Holl was the first to perform the role in top-level American championship racing when she worked for the Tasman team in CART in the late 90s (including with a rookie Tony Kanaan).

    But, as you point out George, the hiring of Gade is more notable for what she has accomplished in the sport than for her gender. It really is an impressive hire for SPM.

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