Local Engineer Gundlach Vital To Dixon And Ganassi's Championship

Allison Park Native And Pitt Graduate Making History

Scott Stiller
September 18, 2018 - 8:58 am
PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Driver Scott Dixon And Assistant Engineer Kate Gundlach

Chip Ganassi Racing

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Pittsburgh, PA (93.7 The Fan) - Kate Gundlach didn’t set out to break barriers, change stereotypes or to make history, but she’s doing just that in pursuit of her dream.

Gundlach, a Hampton High School graduate, is the Assistant Engineer on the 2018 IndyCar Champion No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driven by Scott Dixon.  Gundlach (pictured above with Dixon) and teammate Danielle Shepherd are the first women to earn IndyCar championships as Engineers.

“I was on the team when Scott won in 2015 (working with Charlie Kimball),” said Gundlach.  “I believe in our ‘one team, one dream’ philosophy at Ganassi but it’s a little more special when it’s your car.”

How Gundlach ended up on Ganassi’s pit box reads like a script from a Hollywood movie.  Gundlach grew up in Allison Park thinking she wanted to get involved with motorcycles like her parents Tim Gundlach and Lisa Love.

“I started off in vintage motorcycle racing with my dad,” said Gundlach.  “He and my mom both had vintage bikes and did track days.  My Dad raced them, and I followed him around to tracks around Pittsburgh and to other tracks from Michigan to Alabama.  I was always fascinated about how they worked. I come from a family of tinkerers who like to take things apart and put them back together and I do to, that’s what really gets me excited.  I like to read about it, see how it works and appreciate the design behind it.”

Gundlach decided a full-time career was on the horizon but wasn’t sure how to get there.  Enter some fatherly advice.

“My Dad said ‘you know the real money is in cars, these 2-wheel things don’t make too much’” Gundlach recalled.

It was at that time Gundlach’s path started taking as many twists and turns as a racer sees on a road or street course.

“I was checking out Universities and Pitt had a Formula SAE program,” said the 34-year-old.  “That thing used a CBR600 engine and I could relate to that because it is out of a Super Bike, so that was a way to get introduced to 4-wheels from something that came from 2-wheels.”

Gundlach spent two years working on the Formula SAE team and then found a race team to work with based in Western Pennsylvania.

“I found a small Formula team out of Trafford and I told them I was interested in an internship,” said Gundlach about John Walko Racing.  “They didn’t have an internship program, so I made one.  They were like ‘as long as we don’t have to pay you’” recalled Gundlach, laughing at the memory.

Gundlach worked for the race team in the summer and continued her education at Pitt in the fall and winter graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  

A lack of sponsorship ended her tenure at Walko, so she moved out to California and began working for Star Race Cars, the company that manufactured and oversaw the chassis used in the Star Mazda Series, a stepping stone to IndyCar.  Gundlach’s career took another turn a few years later when her phone rang.

“I got a call from a buddy of mine who was working on an IndyCar team who said they were looking for a Data Engineer,” said Gundlach.  “I figured I would try that and moved myself out to Indianapolis and started working at HVM Racing with driver Simona de Silvestro.”

What does a Data Engineer do for a race team?

“The cars are outfitted with a bunch of different systems controls,” explained Gundlach.  “We have clutch control systems, gear shifting systems, telemetry and radio systems.  The data system monitors all the sensors on the car and the data engineer makes sure the system is recording accurately and precisely.  If one sensor is saying one thing and another sensor is saying something else, what does that mean for the car.  The engineer is responsible for troubleshooting and has to devise a plan to resolve the problem.”

Sponsorship woes struck HVM so Gundlach made a lateral move to Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing before joining Ganassi.

“I heard there was an opening at Ganassi.  It was a step-up from a Data Engineer and I wanted to keep going, see how far I can get with this thing,” said Gundlach.  “I left Rahal and have been at Ganassi the last couple of years.”

Gundlach started on Charlie Kimball’s car and worked with him for three years before moving over to Scott Dixon’s car the past two years as the Assistant Engineer.

“The Assistant Engineer is responsible for processing all the data and sending it off to the race engineer, so they can make the best decisions for the car based on what the data is saying,” said Gundlach.  “We’re also responsible for fuel economy and calling when we need to pit.  That’s the part that really gets your blood pumping. When you’re watching the gas in the tank go down and you have to know exactly, down to a tenth of-a-gallon or less, if you can go one more lap and it can be a little hair-raising.”

Eyebrow raising is what some might say when seeing a female working on a race car but Gundlach says she’s been fortunate.

“I haven’t come across any blatant discrimination.  People say things and the guys joke around here and there a bit and you’ve got to learn how to take it and you’ve got to learn how to give it back.  If someone’s giving you a hard time you’ve got to stand-up to them, joke around with them or tell them to get lost, tell them jags to take off,” Gundlach laughed in true Pittsburghese.  “I’ve worked with some really good people, people that have a different outlook and the industry as a whole doesn’t tolerate people that do not put the work in.  I think that applies to anybody in any field.  If you don’t work hard and you don’t really want it people can tell, and you won’t last.”

Gundlach is putting in the hard work and soaking up all of the knowledge and experience that surrounds her on the 12-time championship team.

“The Ganassi group is exceptional,” said Gundlach.  “Some of the smartest people I have ever met work here.  It’s a great group.”

Gundlach hopes to use her knowledge, skills and experience to take that next step, which would be a race engineer.

“It’s not something that is going to happen anytime soon,” said Gundlach.  “It takes a lot of experience and a lot of time.  That’s the path Chris Simmons (Dixon’s Race Engineer) took and a lot of other engineers as well.  That’s what I’d like to do someday.”

Gundlach also spends part of her free time working with Fuel The Female, a non-profit that works to introduce young women to the motorports industry, and the advice she gives really applies to anyone. 

“I would tell anybody who is questioning what they want to do and wondering maybe what their purpose is to find something you feel passionate about and look into it,” said Gundlach.  “When I was looking at that stuff it seemed so out of reach because I had no idea how to get there or what it took.  It starts off as a big scary world, but once you get a handle on it you’re like I can do this, I’ll be alright.”

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