Gundlach on the right track

By SHELLI MESSER

NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. – Starting out in a sport — or a career — is usually difficult, but… NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. – Starting out in a sport — or a career — is usually difficult, but for Kate Gundlach, all it took was dialing one phone number.

Actually, it was a little harder than that for the 21-year-old Allison Park, Pa.-native, but not that much. Motorsports have always been in Gundlach’s blood. Both of her parents’ families love motorcycles.

“I’ve grown up with racing,” Gundlach said. “I have been around it longer than I can remember. It’s been accepted into the family. I fell in love with it, though, when I joined the University of Pittsburgh’s Formula [Society of Automotive Engineers] team.”

That love for racing sparked her to pursue a future in the sport.

“I wanted to get into auto racing, but I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I was handed John Walko’s card at a Formula SAE event, and I took it straight back to my dorm room. I checked out his Web site and gave him a call.”

Walko is co-owner of a formula car racing team that competes in several series, including fielding four cars in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear for drivers Graham Rahal, Robbie Pecorari, Jonathan Klein and Pablo Donoso.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want. I have to be in this,'” Gundlach said. “All it took was a phone call. I had my interview, and [Walko] told me that I’d start the next day. I was so excited.”

As part of a co-op program with Pitt, Gundlach, now a senior mechanical engineering student, is in her second year as an intern for Andersen Walko Racing based in North Versailles, Pa., and Fairfield, N.J. She holds the title of data acquisition specialist and works with the Pi Research system.

A data acquisition specialist downloads computer-generated information regarding the car itself, such as steering, speed, throttling, ground speed, engine diagnostics, and where and when the driver is shifting gears. Gundlach then either looks for what problems the car is having or comments on what could be improved.

For Walko, hiring Gundlach was an easy decision. He believes she’ll leave with the experience needed to take her career to the next step.

“Racing looks different from the outside,” Walko said. “I want her to take with her the knowledge of how a race team works. She will go knowing what the real thing is.”

Two years after being hired, Gundlach has already had the opportunity to work for a professional racecar team, a privilege most mechanical engineering students will never experience. She also has been given the chance to work with Rossella Manfrinato, one of the most accomplished female racing engineers AWR hired this spring.

“Oh my word, it’s amazing,” Gundlach said in response to working with Manfrinato. “She has so much experience and knowledge. I have learned so much from her, and I’m so lucky to be working with her.

“She has such an in-depth knowledge of every element of the car,” Gundlach continued. “She’s always thinking of the next step. She’s such an all-around awesome person.”

Gundlach loves the people who surround her at AWR. Even as a woman, she feels she and Manfrinato are treated with the utmost respect.

“It’s easy to forget that I am a woman with this team,” Gundlach said. “It’s easier having Rossella around. She has so many credentials that everyone knows and respects her. As for the team, they are wonderful. I treat each of them like a crew member, and they treat me like a crew member. They are so easygoing that it makes them easy to get along with.”

As if balancing school and a full-time job isn’t hard enough, Gundlach has also been a member of Pitt’s Formula SAE team for the last three years. She is the leader of the group responsible for the drivetrain in the team’s car.

“SAE is an organization that includes around 150 teams worldwide,” Gundlach explained. “The Formula SAE events allow college students to engineer, design and drive small, formula 500-size cars. It is a one-race event, but the car must finish other competitions such as endurance, autocross, accelerations, etc.

“I really don’t know how I balance it all,” Gundlach said. “I tend to think I handle it well. I can’t focus on things too long, so having lots to do makes it easier to go back and forth. I love what I do. I try to be as involved as possible while keeping up with school. It motivates me when I know that I can learn more. Plus, caffeine helps a lot.”

Gundlach, who has one more year of engineering studies, isn’t sure where she will end up next.” No matter what direction she decides to make, she knows racing will be involved.

“I would like to get my master’s degree, but I have to find the money and the time,” she said. “I want to be a racecar engineer and work my way up the ladder.”

Of course, Andersen Walko Racing would love to see Gundlach stick around once she graduates.

“She has what it takes to work on a race team,” Walko said.

“I have more confidence from working here [AWR],” she said. “You learn more about yourself with racing. What can I say? Racing is my life.”

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