Jason Zide left Los Angeles with a dream and returned with a racecar.
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering student is in the midst of deferring his senior year to finish a 12-month internship with the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Formula One team.
Getting a break from 10-hour days of research on the world’s fastest cars at Infiniti Red Bull headquarters in England, Zide flew back to Southern California, serving as an ambassador for the company’s Performance Engineering Academy.
As part of a college tour to attract applicants for a second run of internships, Infiniti planted a Formula One car on the Engineering Quad in late April. Next to the Infiniti Red Bull show car sat Zide’s other pride and joy — a still unpainted USC Racing vehicle named Stacy. The vehicles didn’t appear to be all that different — minus the bigger tires, full detailing and about 100 miles per hour of power.
“It was exciting to see the USC Racing car next to the Infiniti Red Bull F1,” said Zide, who was flying back to England that night. “These are the two projects on which I’ve been working so heavily. Stacy isn’t quite finished yet, but she looked like she belonged.”
In the fast lane
Zide dreamed of someday reaching the apex of motorsports as an engineer for a Formula One team, but he saw it as the end game of his career long after completing his mechanical engineering degree and getting experience at lower levels of racing.
Then along with 1,500 other engineering students around the world, he applied for the first Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy, acing a Skype interview and regional competition before winning one of three spots in a three-day shootout event of intensive interviews, practical tests and technical challenges.
Suddenly he was off to England last September for a full-time paid position with Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s transmission design team, a position that came with complimentary living quarters and use of an Infiniti Q50 company car.
He previously had summer internships with Infiniti’s North American Technical Center and Tesla Motors, but those were nothing like the hands-on experience he’s had with the F1 team. In his first eight months on the job, he has designed 80 parts on the Infiniti Red Bull car, which is competing in the 2015 Formula One season.
I didn’t expect to be able to contribute this much.
“I didn’t expect to be able to contribute this much, honestly,” Zide said. “They really expect a lot from their interns. It was a very steep learning curve initially to get up to the pace of an F1, but it’s exciting and I’ve learned a tremendous amount in terms of design philosophy, manufacturing techniques and research and development on some technologies to which I probably wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed.”
Born to design
The rain and colder temperatures in the United Kingdom took some getting used to for the Laguna Beach native, as did driving on left side of the road. But he got over it quickly.
Zide’s passion for motorsports started at a young age, from working on cars with his father, a recently retired radiologist who made a hobby out of restoring and racing vintage cars, particularly Alfa Romeos. He began creating and racing his own go-karts at the age of 8, realizing his talents were more in the design phase than behind the wheel.
As a freshman, he signed up for USC Racing. The team builds a new racecar from scratch each school year, entering it in Formula SAE competitions against other colleges. Even from abroad, Zide has served as project manager for Stacy by putting in three to four hours a day after work reviewing the team’s progress.
“We were pretty stoked as a team to have one of our members get to work on a Formula One car,” said Yann Staelens, a lecturer at USC Viterbi who serves as faculty adviser to USC Racing. “It’s great to have him come back for a day, but we’re really excited about him returning in the fall. He’s seeing how professional teams do it, and we’ll try to apply some of that knowledge here at USC.”
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