From meeting his motorsports idol to competing against the world's top automotive engineering students, Huy (Mike) Phan squeezed a lot into two short days in Hong Kong.
Phan was one of just 10 students selected for the last stage of a global talent hunt, battling for a chance to join the Renault Formula One team and train at the Infiniti Engineering Academy.
As a way to find and develop new talent, Infinity invites an up-and-coming engineering student to complete a 12-month integrated training and mentoring program with world-leading engineers embedded in the Renault F1 Team.
While more than 4000 engineering students apply for the program, only 10 make the regional final at the academy's global headquarters.
Phan was lucky to be one of those shortlisted, undertaking an intense two-day assessment in Hong Kong where problem-solving and hands-on skills were put to the test.
What motivated you to enter?
I’ve always loved motorsports and my background is in rally mechanics.
A few years ago, I took a bit of a risk by quitting my job in Sydney to move down to Melbourne to study Automotive Engineering - link to his program. I knew that ultimately if I wanted to become a race engineer in Formula One I had to take the plunge.
When I heard about the competition I applied straight away. With a GPA of 3.9 and as a winner of Warman Design Competition I felt I had a fighting chance of making it through the interview stages.
My team won the hybrid challenge with a hybrid toy car designed from scratch with parts provided by the Academy.
We also had an engineering exam, a media challenge, a factory design challenge and an interview with the judges. During the two days, we were assessed on how we approached the activities, how we worked with each other – in fact, the whole experience was kind of one big test!
How did you prepare?
My experience designing and building a robot during the Warman Competition together with the car I designed during one of my courses – the body of a Tesla Model S – helped provide a solid foundation in auto mechanics so I was confident in my abilities during the competition in Hong Kong.
My lecturers also prepared me well and my studies provided me with a strong theory base, as well as a set of communication and team work skills that helped me to demonstrate my capabilities.
What were some of the biggest challenges of the experience?
One of the biggest challenges was adapting to the team quickly so we could tackle tasks as efficiently as possible. Everything was by the clock so there was no time for us to relax.
During the hybrid challenge my team and I lost a bit of time, however we managed to turn it around with good communication and team work to pull off a 3-2 race win.
Must admit, having the film crew watching your every move was added pressure!
What were some of the biggest highlights of the experience?
The highlight was having dinner with Chris Dyer, chief engineer of BMW's DTM program and former F1 race engineer, who is one of my idols in the motorsports world.
I was able to chat to him about his V8 days, his Formula 1 days at Ferrari, and his overall outlook on the future of F1.
He also shared his tales of working with Peter Brock and Michael Schumacher – stuff that I would never be able to hear anywhere else.
I also really valued the opportunity to meet Andy Todd, head of design at Infiniti. He has so much knowledge and experience in the automotive world and he provided many insights on where the automotive industry is heading as well as tips on automotive design.
What happens now?
Although I didn’t win the competition, I had no time to dwell because I still had a lot of assignments to do and was keen to get back to Melbourne to focus on my studies.
I’m currently working part-time at ChassisSim, a competitive simulation company, as a support data engineer. When I graduate, I'm aiming for a position at Formula One, working closely with a race engineer team or in research and development on suspension or aerodynamics.
Why did you decide to study automotive engineering at RMIT? What do you love about it?
I wanted to build on my skills as a race mechanic, so when I saw RMIT was offering the degree in automotive engineering I had to apply.
During the first two years of the program you are taught to understand the physics of engineering. In the final years you get into the detail of automotive design, vehicle power systems and vehicle dynamics.
I'm now able to design a car from scratch and can explain the system in much more detail than I was able to as a race mechanic.
In your opinion, what will we all be driving in the future?
If you look at what’s happening in Europe, I really think we’ll be driving electric cars in the future. Hydrogen stations will take over.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray