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How to Become a Motorsport Engineer

Motorsports engineers

Requiring a flawless technical knowledge of vehicle engineering and a passion for the world of motorsports, the role of a motorsport engineer involves the design, building and testing of cars and motorcycles intended for competitive racing. Fusing manual skills with an acute problem solving ability and logical/mathematical approach to processes, this is a highly testing yet extremely rewarding role pursued by an increasing number of hopefuls.

The Work

Working in one of four primary areas (namely design, testing, production or racing) the modern motorsport engineer’s duties are greatly varied. Typically, those involved in the former three areas would operate around the following tasks and obligations:

  • The assessment of new ideas, taking into account performance, cost, safety and strength
  • The testing of components and bodywork in order to improve a vehicles performance
  • The designing of prototypes using computer-aided design software
  • The testing of working models prior to full-scale production
  • The building of production model
  • Conducting quality control tests
  • ‘Finishing’ racing models with sponsor and team logos

For engineers active at the track of race day, a day’s check list may read:

  • The setting up of vehicles to suit track and weather conditions
  • The monitoring of engine speed and other related data during a race
  •  Fine tuning the vehicle and relaying corresponding technical instructions to the driver
  •  Carrying out ‘after-tests’ to scope out any signs of damage following a race

What are the Entry Requirements?

As you can probably imagine the availability of active and open motorsport engineer vacancies is scarce- an issue made all the more compelling given the highly competitive nature of the career. In order to stand out and gain employment in the field it’s likely that a candidate will need a vast amount of experience in vehicle engineering (or a closely related area: electronic controls, mechanics, component manufacturing for example), as well as some relevant qualifications to back it up.

Regardless of the level of the industry you may be prospecting a career in- gaining a degree-level qualification is always advisable before applying for relevant roles. You can take courses specific to motorsport engineering at many UK institutions- including foundation degrees, BTEC HNC/Ds and bachelor’s degrees. Other fields of engineering applicable in this case include mechanical, automotive, aerospace and electronic.  

More vocational routes are available, though are becoming less and less common. Becoming an apprenticeship with a motorsport engineering organisation can and probably will see you gain employment in the field- though of course there is no guarantee that you’ll wind up as an engineer.

Skills and Interests

An ever growing and increasingly lucrative area of engineering, there are a number of qualities that anyone who wants to work as a motorsport engineer should possess. These include, though are in no way limited to:

  • A very strong interest in the field, as well as vehicle design and engineering
  • Natural problem solving capability
  • Excellent and expansive technical knowledge
  • Drive and determination to succeed
  • An affinity with complex numerical data
  • An ability to plan and prioritise projects accordingly
  • Coolness under pressure
  • Excellent teamwork skills
  • Professional flexibility/adaptability

Pay

The money potentially available in this role is extremely appealing, though in no way a guarantee – which is something you should when pursuing this as a career path. Typically, the amount an engineer is remunerated will depend on their employer and particular role within the wider industry. Engineers can expect to start on a minimum of £16,000 once qualified- though this figure can rise anywhere up to £40,000 as they gain experience. 

Further Training and Career Prospects

It is customary for newly qualified motorsports engineers to receive on-the-job training from their employers. Those with degrees hold the option of seeking a place on a graduate training scheme with a vehicle manufacturer, or alternatively even a research/development facility or design firm.

Alternatively, the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing operates a popular Graduate Programme for freshly qualified engineers, focusing on the development of the skills necessary to thrive in the automotive sector. For those already employed in the sector, there is also an array of ‘professional development’ courses available. Whilst postgraduate routes are likely to strengthen any engineers employability, ultimately it is hands-on experience that will win the day.