Hemanth Kumar is an aspiring and talented Structural Calculation Engineer climbing up the ranks within the Motorsport industry. Hemanth is currently part of the Le Mans-winning Toyota Gazoo Racing team who in 2020 completed a hattrick of victories. In this interview, Hemanth shares his inspirational journey whilst providing hope to non-European students aiming to pursue a career in the industry.
I’m Hemanth Kumar from Madras, India. The city is now called Chennai, but I still insist on calling it Madras, as that name best represents my cultural upbringing.
In my current role as a structural calculation engineer, I am responsible for ensuring structural integrity and reliability of a variety of structural components that go on our LMP1 car, as well as other racing and non-racing projects we work on.
I am relatively new to motorsport in the role of an engineer, with nearly 2.5 years of experience as a structural calculation engineer at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe GmbH (TGR-E). Apart from my main role as an engineer, I am also juggling in parallel, the role of trackside team manager for TMG United, a sister team that is composed of passionate TGR-E employees who volunteer to operate an SP-3 class GT-86 in the Nürburgring VLN Series and the 24 hours of Nürburgring. You can get to know more about the team here.
The start of a dream
I grew up watching racing since my childhood, and as a teenager, it became an obsession. At some point, when I was probably 17 years old, the following thought struck me out of thin air: “I love motorsport. What if I could actually work in this sport? Like developing race cars? How would that be?” Back then, this thought was an eye-opener.
Back home in India, I was a young professional doing pro-bono work as an official during national and international events. I started out as a technical scrutineer, and went on to do time-keeping, and even remember being the chief time-keeper for a national championship event as a highlight from back in the day. Even back then, as slim as my chances seemed to be, the goal was always to work in motorsport, and I got to experience Formula 1 live as an official in the paddock of the Buddh international circuit. That experience certainly enriched my journey with renewed grit.
Breakthrough into Motorsport
As much as all of us are pushing the ‘everybody gets a fair chance’ mentality these days, my experience strongly suggests that as a non-European engineer without any prior motorsport experience, my chances were pretty slim.
My breakthrough did not happen in one single moment. If I were to boil it down to a moment though, it was probably five years into my journey with no results to show at that point in time. I had to question myself if I was really making the right decision by sacrificing so many potential benefits in life just to achieve this goal. “What if it doesn’t work out?” was a question I faced back then. I later answered: “If it doesn’t work out, at least I know deep in my heart that I gave it my all, and didn’t hold back.”
Rather painfully, even after this point, it took several years and some humbling guidance from some of the finest brains in the business for my breakthrough to actually happen. I am thankful to those few people who were able to see it in me when I was actually beginning to lose confidence myself.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
I would say that the best part of my role has been the opportunity that I have had to work on both racing cars as well as road-going performance cars. I’ve been tightly involved in the end-to-end design process of one of our latest state-of-the-art composite monocoques, and that is always considered a valuable badge on the shoulder for any motorsport calculation engineer in my field.
I am required to use any means of calculation necessary to deliver optimally correct results in the available duration of time. There is often time pressure, but this kind of environment is where the skill of a calculation engineer is tested, as one often needs to simplify physical problems in order to save time, yet at the same time ensure optimal precision for reliable results.
Since Toyota is my first ever motorsport team as an engineer, the learning curve has been steep for me. Every day is a new learning experience for me. To have seen my first parts go through testing successfully and finally onto the car was a special feeling. The hat-trick at LeMans is also a special feeling.
However, winning the 2019 – 24 hours of Nürburgring in the SP-3 class in our GT-86 with TMG United takes the trophy for me. We made literally zero mistakes as underdogs who were part-time professionals. For instance, I was working as a race engineer during the race, and I am not a race engineer in my main role at TGR-E. Pool in a team of passionate people like me (who also assumed part-time roles, except key mechanics), and we managed to outclass a whole field of professional teams. That is something truly special.
The importance of Education
I would say education was and is still an extremely important part of my profession. A calculation engineer’s profile is probably one of the more demanding profiles in motorsport in terms of engineering knowledge application. Strong fundamentals are essential. I work on my fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, there is also another side where a calculation engineer needs to keep up with the latest developments in state-of-the-art technology. However, I still emphasize fundamentals a lot more than learning the latest tech. With fundamentals, one can always pick up technology that is built as a derivative.
Formula Student gives very relevant experience for any student aspiring to work in motorsport. I would highly recommend it. However, one thing that I commonly observe amongst formula student team members is that they have a tendency to sometimes neglect university grades over their work in the team. I would suggest students to somehow find ways to not let their grades slip as a consequence of their FS involvement.
I focused on structural calculation as one possible career path in my university thesis and student jobs and took the role of an aerodynamicist in my formula student team as an alternative career path. My job application to TGR-E was actually a speculative application for any of these two streams.
Advice to aspiring engineers
I have been receiving numerous questions and requests from many aspirants, especially on LinkedIn. I answered as many of them as I could before I realised that there is a common theme among most of the questions. So I decided to write a collective blog article that answers these common questions.
This article is intended to share perspectives with students, fresh graduates, and young aspiring professionals.
These are my views and are naturally skewed based upon my own experience.
Thank you Hemanth for sharing your inspirational story with every at The Motorsport Engineers Network! We hope that this inspires you to follow your goals.
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