James Bryant Gourlie
BE (Hons) 2015
Wind Tunnel Design Engineer, McLaren Racing
What drew you to study Engineering at UC?
I had lived in Christchurch nearly my whole life, so UC was always on my radar. What really helped me in my decision was going to the UC Open Day and seeing everything that the Engineering department had to offer. I had always heard that UC was very hands-on with its teaching approach but getting to see the wind tunnel, workshops, testing labs and the variety of facilities was what really impressed me.
I also really liked the degree structure, which allows the first year of general engineering to be a taste of each engineering department before you commit to one in your second year!
Do you have any advice for those studying to make the most out of the UC experience?
Make sure to get involved in as many of the different societies and events offered on campus. The clubs are fantastic and are great ways to meet other people with similar interests that could help you hugely in your field of study! Even if the club is not related to your studies but looks interesting then sign up and give it a go! You never know who you might meet or what you might get to do.
I got involved in the Formula Student team (UC Motorsport) and it was through this I was guided into my career in motorsport. Before this, I had only tinkered with cars in my spare time but now I work with them every day! I also met a lot of new people, a lot of whom also work in similar industries which helped me get a good grip on what I was passionate about.
It's great to hear how a UC club sparked serious interest in pursuing a career in the motorsport industry. Can you tell us more about how the club and your studies led you to where you are working now?
I decided to study Mechatronics Engineering because it would give me a good mix of experiences. It was my final year of study when I found the Formula Student team and got stuck into that. Once I got a taste for designing and building performance motorsport parts, I was hooked! I really liked how motorsport incorporated just about every type of engineering, culminating in us actually making most of our car by hand in the UC workshops. The Formula Student team is directly tied into the Engineering degree, with the work done in the team able to be used in your final year project.
The degree itself has all sorts of interesting projects like making control boards for electric go-karts, building spaghetti bridges and making RC cars for a 'robot wars' event. These projects provide great ways to learn in a tangible way and I still talk about them fondly - my colleagues in the UK are often jealous of these projects which UC offers in the degree!
Could you describe what a day in your job could look like, despite living in a pandemic?
I work for Alpine Formula One Team and primarily responsible for turning new aerodynamic surfaces into physical components for use in wind tunnel testing. A project for a particular concept can span less than two weeks, which means we are constantly on the clock to get components modelled and manufactured. We use rapid prototyping and often only have a few days to take brand new concepts and integrate them into the current model. These designs have to be perfect as we can't afford downtime when using the wind tunnel, so the pressure is on! We are constantly trying to find ways to improve and optimise the testing we do. Being on the front line of these technological changes and progression is very motivating and means we get to work with a wide range of people, all of whom are at the top of their fields.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, we know that life can change quickly! Undeterred by this, what do you hope to have achieved in your career over the next five years?
Something I often tell people about working in Formula One is that a lot of engineers aren't exclusively passionate about motorsport or even cars. Nearly everyone I work with is primarily interested in improving themselves and others as engineers. I want to do exactly that and involve myself in as many areas as I can within Formula One and motorsport. Whether that's vehicle modelling, design, composites or aerodynamics, I want to push myself to be always learning. I would love to one day be in charge of a Formula One team and not only to produce an incredible vehicle but also to develop the quality of engineers and promote new and exciting tech which can be applied in various fields to improve the world we live in.
Ultimately, I just love being around cars and am just as happy working on an old Datsun as I am on a Formula One car. However, I am aware of the huge impact these vehicles have on our planet and so will continue to learn as much as I can to help improve the sustainability of whatever our day to day transport becomes!