How to become a Number 1 Mechanic in GT Racing – Qualifications, skills & more
The job of a mechanic on a racing team is a varied and important one, making sure that the entire car is race ready before any session.
#38 JOTA McLaren 720 S GT3: Oliver Wilkinson, Ben Barnicoat, Rob Bell
To find out what it takes to be a mechanic for a GT3 car, we spoke to Todd Pannell – a Number 1 Mechanic for JOTA – to find out how to become a mechanic, what qualifications it takes, and what skills you need to succeed.
What is your role?
My role as a Number 1 Mechanic is to manage the preparation and maintenance of the McLaren 720S GT3 in the workshop and at the circuit. One of the requirements of this role is pitstops, of which I am a gunman. GTWCE is a really competitive championship for pitstops, where any time gained or lost can drastically change the outcome of the race. Therefore, we train most days whether that’s pitstop practice or in the gym with our pitstop coach Cassie McColl (read more about the role of a Pitstop Performance Coach here).
How do you become a Number 1 Mechanic?
Motorsport is a hard industry to get into, there is plenty of good talent around, so to find a job you’ve got to make sure you stand out. Good qualifications at A-Level or university and previous motorsport experience will help in this. There’s plenty of club level teams that would take on people for work experience, and this is a good way to get a foot in the pitlane.
I was fortunate to be born into a motorsport family so it was a goal of mine from a young age. Personally I gained knowledge of cars by working at my father’s road car garage for a few years, I also took on some work experience at a few different racing teams from rallycross to BTCC. This gave me a good base of knowledge before going to motorsport college. During my time at college, I pushed to find a full-time job in a motorsport environment, and contacted plenty of race teams all across the UK.
What qualifications do you need?
Most teams will be looking for an education in motorsport at A-Level or university level. Having said this, good experience in a motorsport environment at any level will only help in your search for a job. Being that the majority of the work is hands on work, a degree is not a necessity, if you have a strong knowledge of cars and have completed work experience with a team then you’re on a good route to finding work in motorsport.
I personally studied a Level 3 diploma in motorsport engineering. This gave me a good understanding of what I needed to know, from engines and gearboxes, suspension geometry, to skills like welding and machining.
#38 JOTA McLaren 720 S GT3: Rob Bell, Oliver Wilkinson, Ben Barnicoat
Photo by: SRO
What should you study in school?
We are very lucky in the UK as there is plenty of choice from dedicated motorsport colleges, to a wide array of university degrees based on motorsport engineering and technology.
If you’re still at school or deciding what GCSEs to choose, English, maths and physics are the ones you want to focus on. You may be lucky enough to be based close to a motorsport college, if so then apply there, as you can start this process at Level 2 (GCSE). If you feel university is the route you want to take most courses will be looking for a BBA or higher at A-Level, or a merit at Level 3 from a motorsport college.
What other skills are useful?
A job as a Number 1 Mechanic is vary varied, you must have a keen eye for detail, a good work ethic, and take pride in the work you do. A lot of time is spent working in a team, so being able to work well with groups of people is important. You will need to be able to solve problems and issues quickly while working under pressure.
How can I get work experience?
Getting work experience will be the most beneficial thing you can do on your journey to a career in motorsport, this will give you the best insight into how things happen on a race weekend.
The best way to find work experience is to write up a CV and a letter about yourself, add information of stuff you’ve done that makes you attractive to these companies. Apply at local karting circuits, engineering workshops or find some local club teams and offer to help them out prepping their cars or at local events.
##38 JOTA McLaren 720 S GT3: Oliver Wilkinson, Ben Barnicoat, Rob Bell
Photo by: SRO
What does a race day look like for you?
There’s a lot of work that goes on at a race circuit before the cars hit the track. This includes setting up the garage, setting a flat patch to make setup changes on during the weekend, and ensuring everything is ready on the car for the first session. We have daily pitstop practice sessions leading up to the race to get the best performance on race day. Once were on track I work with the engineers and the other mechanics to ensure the car is reliable and in a good setup window for the race.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I don’t think there is a normal day in motorsport, you can never predict what is around the corner and that’s part of the fun of it. A workshop day at JOTA will start at 8:30 and usually finish at 17:30 with workload depending. From here I will discuss with the chief mechanic on our goals and targets for the day/week ahead. We work from a detailed job list to ensure all jobs are done to the highest standard and within the timeframe before the next event. This involves stripping the car, inspecting for any damage and rectifying any problems found. Once the car is built up, we put the car on our flat patch to set up suspension and bodywork and to ensure the car is legal for scrutineering when we arrive at the circuit.
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