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Racing ahead

Two US universities jointly offer a unique course in motorsport engineering. We take you for a test drive

education Updated: Oct 06, 2010 09:32 IST
HT Horizons correspondent

As India gets ready to host its first Formula 1 Grand Prix next year, motorsports is a career to be in. An integrated US varsity offers undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in the field of motorsports engineering. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is an urban campus of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, Indiana. IUPUI offers more than 250 degrees across 22 colleges.

Patricia Biddinger, director, international recruitment and retention at IUPUI talked to HT Horizons about the unique motorsport engineering programme.

What is the scope for motorsports engineering?
Motorsports is a $1 billion-plus industry. There are many employment opportunities for people interested in motorsports – race teams, manufacturing, and design to name a few. In Indiana alone, there are more than 1,000 companies in motorsports-related industries. It is noteworthy that auto racing is a big industry in several countries. Students will be qualified to work in the sector, regardless of the country or location.

Why was the motorsports engineering programme started?
There was a demonstrated need. There are no other motorsports engineering degree programmes in the US. Before we came up with the motorsport engineering programme, only England had such programme. The industry is unique, so a specific programme made extremely good sense. Response to this relatively new programme has confirmed our thinking.

How different is this from automobile engineering?
It is not too different. The fundamentals are the same but the class-related and extracurricular projects are all motorsports related. The internships are also related to motorsports.

Usually specialisations are studied at the PG level. Why is IUPUI offering it at the UG level?
We were inspired to start the programme because of a demonstrated need and because there were no UG programmes in this field. Graduates will be qualified to work within the automotive industry. Some of our students are currently pursuing a five-year programme to earn both a bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering as well as a BS in motorsports.

Are there plans to start the programme at the PG or doctoral level as well?
Yes, we are planning a motorsports concentration in our MS in mechanical engineering, which we expect to launch within a year.

How much infrastructural additions have been made when this programme was introduced?
We added a programme director who is also a faculty member and hired one additional faculty member who came from a Formula One team and has a MS in mechanical engineering. We have a dedicated car lab and we purchased a second race car.

Tell us more about this niche. How many seats do you offer?
Motor racing is a $1 billion industry and jobs are numerous and growing in the areas of racing, manufacturing and design. The foundation in mechanical engineering significantly expands career opportunities. On an average, we enroll 30-40 new students each semester. We do not currently limit the number of students, though we may have to do so in the future.

When was the first batch formed?
The first students began their studies in the fall of 2008. We have admitted our third group of students for this fall semester (2010).

Tell us something about the pluralist culture that exists in the university? What is the strength of Indian students? What is strength of students from other countries?
About 12 per cent of the students in the School of Engineering are international students and they come from all over the world. We have admitted a few international students into the motorsports programme, but interest in this programme from outside of the US is clearly growing. And though no Indian students are currently enrolled in motorsports, they are beginning to express interest in this degree via email inquiries and phone calls.

Nearly 4.5 per cent of the students are international, representing 140 different nations. Indian students (220) are the second largest group among the international students. The most popular academic programmes among Indian students are informatics, engineering, ccience – especially computer and information science, and business.

Which are the other popular programmes offered at the IUPUI besides motorsports engineering?
We offer a variety of engineering and technology programmes, including biomedical, electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering as well as many engineering technology programmes.

IUPUI is one of a handful of schools across the US to offer a Bachelor’s of Science in energy engineering, specifically preparing students for careers in this industry.