Please introduce yourself
My name is Tom McCausland, I am in my penultimate year of Product Design Engineering at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
Tell us about your passion for your industry and how it all began
For me, motorsport is the ultimate team sport. So many different pieces have to be working harmoniously, in the engineering, the business, the marketing and the process. My passion for motorsport began when I was very young. My Dad was involved in racing and design, and took me to the Australian Grand Prix frequently. In secondary school I was always eager to get to the Grand Prix and watch the teams working in the pits.
What would your dream career look like?
I love the people and management aspect of motorsport. It’s my dream to work in a track engineering role and then eventually team management. I am passionate about understanding team members roles, delving into the problems they’re solving and supporting them to get the best out of the team.
What has your study path has been so far, and how have you made those choices
I applied for Product Design Engineering at Swinburne because I wanted a mix of idea generation and prototyping with engineering theory and skills. Basically I wanted to get creative, sketch ideas and then build them. Choosing a University that was heavily involved in Formula Student was also a high priority for me. I learnt about the program through a presentation coming to our school.
What about your experiences with Formula Student
My Formula Student journey has been long, challenging and rewarding. With Team Swinburne Formula SAE, I took on Aerodynamics Lead in 2017, focusing on wings, cooling and undertray design. For 2018 I became Team Leader, working on building team dynamics, culture and long term strategy. In 2019 I wanted to learn new technical skills, so I took on a Manufacturing Team role, learning CNC operation to machine suspension assemblies and composite work on the chassis and aerodynamics. For 2020, I took on an Industrial Design Lead role, where I mentored young design students to generate logos, branding, sponsor engagement and collateral. It was great being involved in different aspects of the chain of a racing team during my studies.
How do you feel it will help you to achieve the career you hope for
Formula Student is an opportunity for students to take risks, try new concepts and apply theory learnt in the classroom. You don’t want to be making the basic errors when you have reached your dream role. Learning to generate a brief with objectives, allow for design compromise, work within budgets and timelines are all critical skills in becoming an engineer. But there are also skills you learn that make you a better person. It makes you a better listener, learning to delve into details. It builds personal discipline, working to timelines and understanding project scope.
What advice would you like to share with future students
Experience and attitude are key. If you have the right attitude and discipline then there are opportunities in motorsport. Understanding your role in the team and doing it to the best of your ability is the best action you can take. Motorsport is all about everyone playing their role, and if you perform your role to your best, you will learn more and thrive more from the experience.
Be open to experiences outside of motorsport. Hackathons, assembly work and personal projects will teach you technical and collaborative skills that you can always refine more. Align your skills and interests to what the motorsport landscape is and will be looking for, and understand the areas that you will need to put more time into.
My internship at Walkinshaw Andretti United
Walkinshaw Andretti United (WAU) is a leading V8 Supercars team within the Repco Supercars Championship in Australia. What makes this company unique is that it is part of a larger engineering network, both locally and globally. WAU represents a racing partnership for the road car business (General Motors Special Vehicles) and global partners Andretti Autosports and United Autosports. Although the racing business is a small element within the Walkinshaw Group, it is a fast paced, exciting engineering and marketing platform for the organisation.
From the workshop in Clayton, 2 x ZB Commodore entries are assembled, designed, simulated and prepared week in and week out for events across Australia. There is a large variety of different skills and team members within the WAU team. Mechanics, race engineers, commercial team, management, sponsors, drivers, fabricators and technicians work from the facility and at the track throughout the year. It is a passionate, driven and exciting environment that I have been working towards since 2014.
The people at WAU always made time to answer questions, read my reports and offer their experience and input. Motorsport is competitive, but the people there look out for one another and put their hand up when they make mistakes, because they know we’re all driving for improvement. The internship further fuelled my ambitions to build a career in motorsport and engineering. It exceeded my expectations. As we got closer to the start of the season, it kept getting better because everyone started to get rewarded for all the hard work. When the car hits the track, and everyone is in their uniform working together, it’s a buzz.
The most surreal moment was meeting up with Callum Glanville, a mechanic at the team. I first met with Callum in 2014, after sneaking out of school early at the Australian Grand Prix. Callum spotted me, and showed me around the pits, the car and the equipment. It was crazy to walk into the workshop, 7 years later as an engineering intern alongside him, not as a visitor, but as a teammate. I am forever thankful to Mr Bruce Stewart and the Walkinshaw Andretti United team for the opportunity.
What have been the recent challenges on the motorsport journey?
Character and Attitude, managing the pressure In chasing career aspirations, especially ones that you share with teammates beside you in Formula Student, you get to learn a lot about character. The pressure and chase to forever improve yourself, sharpen the car and push as a team is intense. When individuals succeed on this journey, it is easy for people to become defensive, jealous and cut you down. This was surprising, to see people change perception. It was definitely challenging to see your teammates turn on you when you reach your dreams. It is crucial to avoid these people and surround yourself with people who support and push you. But it was also welcoming to see the ones who were willing to ask about experiences and how they can grow from it too.
Adapting to Uncertainty
Losing the Australian Grand Prix 2 years in a row, World Rally Championship and MotoGP cancellations and a heavily hampered Supercars championship are just some of the examples of the challenges motorsport has faced in Australia. It is difficult to survive for teams let alone adapt. Opportunities for work experience, volunteering and junior engineering roles are difficult when you are in lockdown and border restrictions. The best way to adapt as an engineering student I have found is to look for online resources, such as MIA School of Race Engineering and other online tutoring through Formula Careers. It is good to learn new skills online, but I sure do miss seeing the Audi R8 GT3 racing across the mountain at the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Trying to stay on the radar through Linkedin, applying for internships that you can’t physically attend on the other side of the world and getting feedback on your journey is a constant challenge to manage. The crazy thing about this year is that no one truly has an answer of what is the best way to adapt and remain a competitive applicant for Formula 1. The main thing is staying active, chasing feedback and engaging with people. Sometimes not just on a professional level, but on a personal level too.
Positives of COVID
If there is one thing positive about Covid, it has been that some people are more open to discussing how they really are, away from the track. When I worked at Walkinshaw Andretti United, people described it as a family environment. This confused me at first, I thought we would work hard together and push for results, but the covid journey has meant that people really look out for each other and lift each other up. They are more open and when you spend that much time with each other at the track, the workshop and between events, you really get to know when people aren’t feeling 100%. It doesn’t matter what level you are, mechanic, engineer or technician, they become your brothers and sisters that you go to battle with at the track. That was when I started to understand how a ‘family’ culture works hand in hand with a competitive race team.
Connect with Tom on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-mccausland/
Formula Careers on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGpWS1pBpC6oHVjubZvCT0A
Formula Careers Student Support Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8961665/
Support the Formula Careers Project: https://www.patreon.com/louisemcgrath