Engineer Lands Career on the Fast Track
More than 250,000 spectators at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway watched Ryan Hunter-Reay win this year’s Indy 500 by a mere .06 seconds. Another 300 million saw the 98th edition of “racing’s greatest spectacle” on television. Colorado State University alumnus Gabriel Davila-Ruiz (B.S., ’09, M.E., ’12) watched it from a timing stand in pit lane, where he monitored live data feeds for the five Andretti Autosport cars in the race—including Hunter-Reay’s— and kept “an extra set of eyes” on the competition.
For Davila-Ruiz, the words “Gentlemen, start your engines,” signified not only the beginning of an unforgettable race, but the end of a long month preparing for what he calls the “Super Bowl of our sport.”
Davila-Ruiz works as a simulation engineer for Honda Performance Development (HPD), Honda’s North American racing company. HPD specializes in race engines, chassis, and other performance parts, but also provides technical and race support. That’s where Davila-Ruiz comes in. This year, he’s embedded with Andretti Autosport as a chassis and vehicle dynamics engineer. Though he’s based in California, he visits their shop in Indianapolis once a month and travels with the teams to every race.
“It was nonstop work,” he says of the month leading up to Indy. “We practiced every day from eight a.m. to eight p.m. for two and a half weeks, including weekends. Then two days of qualifying and the race the following week.”
Hard work, yes, but undeniably, unabashedly cool. “I provide gearing and setup recommendations and do predictive analysis with engineering simulation tools,” Davila-Ruiz says. One of those tools is HPD’s Driver-in-the-Loop simulator. Imagine a real Indycar cockpit facing a wrap-around movie screen mounted on a platform supported by six hydraulic struts. The simulator allows engineers to predict how the car will handle real-world, on-track situations so they can make informed decisions about gearing and aerodynamics—decisions that might help a driver reach the checkered flag .06-seconds faster than the next car.
Davila-Ruiz always travels with a CSU mouse pad, a reminder of his school and the people who helped him land a career on the fast track. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a minor in applied mathematics and went on to get a master’s in mechanical engineering.
“I couldn’t have made it to where I am,” he says, “Without the education I got from CSU and the professors that helped me through it all.” He’s especially grateful for lessons learned through undergraduate and graduate involvement with Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineering). “FSAE allowed me to apply engineering principals I learned in the classroom to real-world problems in automotive and racing applications.”
Today those real-world problems are helping drivers compete and win at Indy – one of the world’s biggest stages.
Top: Davila-Ruiz (center) with Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Courtesy of Honda Racing HPD.
Middle: Driver-in-the-loop simulator, HPD Indy Tech Center, Indianapolis. Courtesy of Honda Racing HPD.
Bottom: Colorado State University Formula SAE team, 2009.