Le Mans-winning race engineer Leena Gade has been signed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The Briton will oversee the No. 5 Honda driven by James Hinchcliffe, and she replaces Allan McDonald, who went to work for the rival Ed Carpenter Racing outfit.
“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in IndyCar,” said Gade, who was recruited by SPM general manager Piers Phillips.
“When I was a kid, I used to watch IndyCar, especially when Nigel Mansell first came over, and I followed it quite a lot. During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the US to work in it like Piers. I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Gade’s wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Audi were followed by a move to Bentley’s customer racing program after the German brand withdrew from LMP1 competition in 2016. With her contract up at the end of 2017, Gade visited a Phoenix IndyCar test with SPM and toured the team’s shop before settling on a new American venture.
“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Phillips said. “I’ve known Leena for quite some time now, and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”
First trailed by RACER in December, Gade’s appointment at SPM adds to the growing number of women in senior engineering roles within open-wheel and sports car racing. From assistant race engineers to manufacturer engine technicians to the head of race tire development for Firestone, the gender balance in IndyCar is making slow but continual progress in a positive direction.
With SPM, Gade becomes the first woman to hold the title of race engineer in the Verizon IndyCar Series – the organization that originally began under the Indy Racing League banner in 1996.
She follows Diane Holl, also from England, who broke that barrier in 1996 within the CART IndyCar Series. Lauded at the time as the first female race engineer in a male-dominated sport, Holl did more than simply step into the breach; she became a race-winning engineer with the Tasman Racing team. More recently, Holl’s talents have been found within the Hendrick Racing NASCAR program where she serves as the director of vehicle engineering.
Gade and Hinchcliffe will get their first chance to work together at Sebring on Jan. 24.