Meet The Crew: Mahindra Chief Mechanic Garth Harradine
Posted on: 31 January, 2017
Mind behind the machine
As we set our sights on the next big challenge in Buenos Aires,we give you exclusive access to the best minds from our garage. It’s where the magic starts. The place where precision is just the halfway mark, where we are forever in pursuit of engineering excellence. Our garage is where we push the limits so you can experience the ultimate extreme racing on tracks.
Let us meet a man instrumental in Mahindra Racing’s Formula E quest since the championship’s flag-off in 2014 – Chief Mechanic Garth Harradine. Garth not only brings to the garage his undying passion for racing,but also an impressive career spanning across decades and multiple racing categories. His story begins at Formula 3000, moving to the illustrious F1, and today he is one of the most experienced mechanics in the Formula E paddock.
What inspired you to begin a career in motorsport?
My father raced when I was growing up in South Africa and I did some karting and single-seater racing, but my passion was really in the mechanical and technological side of the sport. I love motorbikes too and tried to learn as much as I can. I studied Mechanical Engineering, which then brought me to the UK where I began working in Formula Renault and Formula 3000. From there I was lucky to move to Formula One for almost 10 years, starting at BAR Honda and then as part of Fernando Alonso’s Championship winning seasons with Renault F1. I then worked in a winning GP2 team until the opportunity arose to join the new Mahindra Racing Formula E team.
I have always been very mechanically inclined.
How many mechanics work on each side of the garage?
At Mahindra we have a 'Number One Mechanic' for each side of the garage and they each work with three 'Number Two Mechanics'. One of the Number Two Mechanics also performs the duty of 'Truckie' and they have the added responsibility of looking after wheels and tyres throughout the weekend. During race sessions, our Operations Manager and I oversee this in the role of Lead Mechanic, so in total we have five mechanics on each side of the garage. We also have engineers which work on each car.
How much freight does a Formula E team carry from race to race and when does each team get access to the boxes?
It varies between teams but we are asked to keep the weight of our freight to approximately 4,000 kg for each race. This includes the four car boxes, a box for our wheel rims and our container carrying all the smaller parts and material for the cars and the garage panels etc. Our cars and all our garage parts are transported from race to race to reduce the carbon footprint of the series in comparison to other racing series where the cars usually return to the team HQ between every race.
At most races, we are instructed to open our freight at 9 AM on Thursday morning and in some cases, we open the boxes on a Wednesday but it depends on the location and when certain roads can be closed. It takes approximately 22 hours for us to prepare our garage and our four M3Electro cars for the race weekend.
Team setting up the garage
How does the team build the cars for each race?
The first thing we do is set up the garage including the paneling, all the cabling and electronics, the engineers' room and drivers' room. Once the garage is ready, we pull the cars out of the boxes and perform a safety check to make sure we can begin preparing them. The cars travel in pretty much a complete state but if there is an incident in the previous race or any issues with the battery, this is the first thing we need to focus on.
Sometimes we might want to change the gearbox or brake material but it is mostly maintenance and set up; bleeding the cooling circuits and the brakes and ensuring the car is safe from an electronic and mechanical point of view, and that nothing has come loose during the last race. We then check the camber (angle) of the wheels and the wing set up for the first session. We also check the pedal position, the steering and safety belts with the drivers to make sure everything works as it should and that the drivers feel comfortable in their cars.
What do the mechanics do when the cars line up on the grid before a race?
In an ideal world, we go to the grid with no last minute adjustments to make. The priority on the grid is to make sure that the battery is at its optimum working temperature. We have a very small temperature window to make sure the battery is at the correct temperature at the start of the race because differences in temperature can have a huge impact on performance. The mechanics check that all the systems in the car are working. This includes checking that the steering wheel is set up and in all the right modes. It also our last opportunity to adjust the tyre pressure just before the race starts.
How does the team prepare for the pit stop?
Formula E is unique because the driver changes to a second car approximately halfway through the race. This is a very precise exercise. Like in any traditional pit stop, every second counts and we must also ensure the safety of the team and driver at all times. We practice as often as we can throughout the weekend, even when the cars aren't running. Every race weekend, the car swap can offer a new scenario to deal with so a good system is essential.
The rules state that you can only have two mechanics helping the driver during the pit stops. The first mechanic takes off the steering wheel while the driver extricates himself and runs to the next car to be strapped in. It is a cliché in racing perform each step slowly and methodically and this works out much faster. Each mechanic has a clear role which is always theirs so there is no confusion.
Car change during a pit stop
Our motto for pit stops is - Don’t fight each other.
What’s the best thing about being a race mechanic?
Every mechanic will tell you that they enjoy something different about being a race car mechanic but my preference is being involved in the birth of a new car. I really enjoy the mechanical design process and it gives me huge pleasure to see a car go from design to manufacture and then assembly.
To lower a completely new car to the ground and see it run for the first time is just fantastic.
What’s the most challenging thing about being a race mechanic?
Motor racing is famous for the hours that are required. The toughest part can be finding the energy after a difficult weekend to begin the pack up and perhaps start some work for the next race. Similarly, if the team works day and night to prepare a car and then, through no fault of the driver, some issue or first lap incident puts them out of the race, that can be heartbreaking.
This is something to expect in racing but I am lucky to have had plenty of highs in my career to counter any lows. I was a part of winning teams in F1 but quite honestly, when Nick got that first podium for the team in Beijing in season two; it felt like winning the championship. That was one of the highlights of my career and we will work all day and all night for that kind of feeling again.
Team’s first podium in Beijing in Season 2
This hard work, dedication and pursuit of engineering excellence - this is passioneering.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you may also like reading about our Chief Engineer and Passioneer Vinit Patel here.
If you share the same passion for automotive engineering as we do, watch this space for all the action. We’ll be back again with more soon. Till then, do share!