Leena Gade is one of motorsport’s most accomplished engineers, with three Le Mans 24 Hour race wins and multiple championship titles under her belt from her time working with the once unstoppable Audi juggernaut. She’s also had spells working in IMSA, and IndyCar, but recently she made the move into off-road racing with McLaren as a member of its new Extreme E venture.
The all-electric series is a world away from what she’s used to, not least because the events take place in remote locations rather than actual race tracks, but the races also take place over two laps, not the 300-400 a team can expect to cover over 24 hours at Le Sarthe.
But the brevity of the contests means that the pressures of competing do compare to a twice-round-the-clock event.
“I haven’t had those nerves for a long time,” Gade told DirtFish.
“You get two laps. So if something happens on lap one that puts you behind, you don’t have very much to catch up, you’ve just got to hope that everyone else has some attrition or penalties and things like that, which means that there’s a huge amount of added pressure, you’ve got to get it right.
“But in terms of the race itself, there’s a huge amount of pressure. If you’ve got two laps and something goes wrong, you’ve got to hope that you finish. There’s a lot more riding on it, so I think your nerves are up there for a long time.”
Drawing comparisons to endurance racing, Gade said: “I know from doing Le Mans, the first stint needs to go by before you calm down, but you’ve still got a long way to go. And even in IMSA races it’s the same kind of thing.
“You’re probably nervy at the start, but you know you’ve got an hour 40 [minutes], 24 hours, whatever it might be to kind of calm down and make the right choices.”
With the intense and contact-heavy nature of off-road racing, Gade and her fellow engineers need to relay a different kind of information to drivers at a different rate, something she says will come to her as she gains more experience in Extreme E, and will take pressure off drivers Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour.
“The learning experience for me really is I think talking about the track to the drivers – or spotting, effectively – is something I’ve never done and is something I want to work on.
“Tanner was talking to Emma at the beginning of the crazy race and it would be good that Emma, or Tanner, had that information from us on the stand without having to rely on the driver to do it.
“Admittedly, they see a very different perspective to us, and I’ve never driven competitively. We’ve got a lot of takeaways from this, a lot that we want to look at, and I think there’s going to be some things that we need to change from our traditional way of racing.”