SAN JOSE, Calif. – Alexander Rossi became a star when he won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. The native Californian may have inspired future behind-the-scenes stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series on Wednesday when he participated in the Honda STEAM Connections Tour stop at San Jose State University.
Rossi, the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver from Nevada City, Calif., was fielded questions to more than 200 aspiring middle- and high-school students at the event sponsored by Honda, one of INDYCAR’s manufacturer partners. STEAM is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics” – all important educational components to be successful working in racing, whether it’s designing and building engines, serving as a team engineer, marketing representative, team accountant or multiple other occupations in the industry.
Rossi, who will drive the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda in this weekend's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, stressed to the students the importance of education that Honda’s program provides.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Rossi said. “A lot of people know there is some form of engineering and technology in race cars, but not many really know the extent of it, unless you are always around it. I had, growing up, some form of science and technology (education), along with the basics of vehicle dynamics and what makes a race car go quickly.
“So for anyone that’s potentially looking to be involved in racing, I think it’s a great thing, but at the same time it’s also great to use racing as an example of things that you can do with these concepts that you are learning – because it’s a cool, trendy and dynamic, and you can do it with things you’re learning in school.”
The 24-year-old driver was joined by team co-owner Bryan Herta, who also emphasized the importance of real-world knowledge that begins with the classroom curriculum. Herta said San Jose State University was the right location for the event given the successful history of its Formula SAE program, which currently ranks third nationally.
“The history that San Jose State has with their Formula SAE program and the success they’ve had makes it a natural target for company like Honda,” Herta said.
“They are going to want to recruit kids out of the engineering programs of universities like this, so for us to be able to connect with them and also some of the younger kids that are probably a step or two away from moving into a university, we’re able to interact with a lot of young people in a short amount of time in a really cool way.”
Honda race team engineer Luiz Olivarez helped lead Rossi and Herta into the history books in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A graduate of California State University-Northridge, Olivarez was inspired by STEAM and assigned to the No. 98 car this year. The San Jose native is a strong proponent of STEAM education.
“I highly recommend it,” Olivarez said. “For people that like to understand how things work – physics, chemistry and math, they’re all good majors, but when you go into engineering you are actually applying it to real-world applications. Whether it be with a race car or a space shuttle, it all comes down to engineering. It’s definitely cool being a part of the program.”
Sam Osman, the chief engineer and chassis team lead of the 14th-place globally ranked Spartan Racing Formula SAE team at SJSU, hopes to be one day in a role with a race team. He noted the invaluable experience gained with the team has put him ahead of the curve in many ways.
“I found that for my personal experience, it’s huge,” Osman said. “Going into internships, it really helps get you the hands-on experience that backs up what you learn in class. Your classroom experience is going to give you a good fundamental base, but you really need that hands-on experience that you really don’t get anywhere else.
“Here, you get to work on design, business (and) you get an aspect of everything so that when you do go into the real world, you’re going to be way ahead of anybody that did (only) classroom stuff. It’s pretty amazing to see the difference of what you can really get here and you learn a lot.”