0 to 230mph in 12 months
Living every innovator’s dream: the story
Living every innovator’s dream: the story
Early last summer, prior to joining the team at Triteq, I got to stand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and watch a car I’d helped to design win the world-famous Indianapolis 500, the fastest motor race on the planet. For a guy with a lifelong passion for motorsport, it was both gloriously exciting and completely surreal – unquestionably my career highlight to date and just an all-round amazing personal achievement.
But how did it come about? – If I had to sum up the whole experience in one phrase I’d have to fall back on simply ‘being in the right place at the right time’. But while there’s a lot of truth to that cliché, it definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. I want to share my story with you in the hope that the lessons I learned might bring you closer to a race-winning moment of your own. So, let’s back-track a little… this all started about three years ago, when I decided to make a tweak to my career path. For nearly twenty years, I’d run my own creative company focused on digital corporate comms and 3D animation projects. I wanted to do something that would have more of a lasting impact on people’s lives. I wanted to get back to working in product design. I realised that the best way to demonstrate my skills to new clients was to have an up-to-date showcase design project and I decided to combine it with a personal passion, motorsport.
My enjoyment of racing was accompanied by sadness in seeing a worrying number of fatalities caused by head injuries. So, I focused my efforts on a canopy solution that would provide all-round protection, unhindered emergency medical access, and inverted escape. By January of 2016, I’d pretty much finalised my concept, although I hadn’t yet released my idea out into the world. But it was at this stage that fate dealt me a perfect opportunity. In mid-January an announcement, accompanied by initial sketches, that the FIA and various Formula One teams had been working on an odd-looking device called the Halo. The response, from both press and F1 fans, was almost universally negative. I took my chance. I put together a tweet with three renders of my canopy idea, squeezed my thoughts into the 120 characters you were allowed at the time (including Halo, F1, and IndyCar hashtags) and released it to the world.
Astonishingly, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Fans were using my idea as a viable alternative to the Halo. By the end of the day my design had featured in a number of international articles and was genuinely stirring up the debate. Encouraged by this, I decided to reach out to Stefan Wilson, the younger brother of Justin Wilson, an IndyCar driver whose fatal crash I’d actually witnessed nearly six months earlier. Incredibly he wrote straight back, saying he’d already seen my designs online and would love to bring them up in a meeting with the IndyCar Director of Safety and Engineering, Jeff Horton. Within a few days, he emailed me about a secret screen project they were working and asked me if I’d help them out. By the end of that week, I was officially working with one of the most prestigious racing series in the world on an alternative design for the talking point of the sport. Things moved on pretty quickly and this first project led to a second. Once we’d finished work on concepts for the Aeroscreen it was then off being tested. So, I turned my attention back to my original full-canopy idea. This time my efforts involved creating an animation of the car and brilliantly coincided with murmurings IndyCar were looking at the design of their 2018 car update.
They’d tasked their Director of Aerodynamics, Tino Belli, with producing a new aerodynamic package that would not only allow the car to hit a 230mph-plus, four-lap-average qualifying speed for the Indy 500 race, but somehow manage that feat while increasing driver safety. My success working with Jeff on the screen project gave me the ‘in’ I needed. Through him I got in touch with Tino to share my ideas – and once again, it paid off. I was brought in as the lead designer for the 2018 IndyCar Universal Aerokit. Then, just before I hopped on a plane to the US to see 33 of the cars I’d helped design race, I found out that along with three of my colleagues I’d been awarded the prestigious Louise Schwitzer Award, which recognises engineering innovation excellence in the Indy500. But I come back to my earlier point – that despite a heavy dose of ‘right place, right time’ luck in all this, there were still some practical things I did that I believe made that luck pay off big time. So, if you want to experience some surreal, dream-come-true success, here’s three key things:
Put the work in – I wasn’t being paid to develop my designs when I first started on the project. I didn’t wait for a paid opportunity before I put in the hours. I just followed my passion, got stuck in, and did the hard work – which meant I was prepared to take maximum advantage of that ‘right time’ when it came along.
Be aware and react fast – I learned through this experience that timing is everything. In some cases, even minutes seemed to matter. If you’re late to the party you’ll find everyone has moved on. So, you have to be prepared to present your ideas at any moment, even when you don’t feel you’re ready. Yes, the quality of your work matters – but don’t let perfectionism stop you making the most of the right moment.
Seize the day – You’ve got to be bold. I had to learn to switch off that part of my personality that worried about what people thought. Releasing my design to the often-ferocious Twittermob was nerve wracking, but it was absolutely the best way to get momentum behind my ideas. Reaching out to Stefan Wilson could have been taken as insensitive and hugely backfired on me, but it unlocked the contacts I needed. Working up the courage to email Tino Belli was no small feat, but that audacity pay off. Never let fear of failure hold you back – you’ve got to take big risks to get big rewards.