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Jaguar Land Rover’s newest global ambassador, founder member of virtual British band Gorillaz, Noodle, and Panasonic Jaguar Racing Engineer Charanya Ravi are on a mission to inspire the next generation. Ahead of FIA Formula E first race of the season in Hong Kong they meet to discuss their journeys….

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Chennai, India and relocated to Hartlepool, Britain at age 11 and ended up, via Imperial College London, at Jaguar Racing. Now, it’s 2016, and Charanya Ravi is a 25-year-old performance engineer on Jaguar E’s Formula E racing project.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

At school I played a lot of instruments – flute, piano, violin, saxophone,” says Charanya. “And, academically, right up until my GCSEs I did a lot of art, all of which I really enjoyed. But I loved maths and physics too, and when it came to A-levels, those subjects stayed with me and drove me towards engineering. Also,” she adds with a grin, “growing up, I loved watching Formula 1. When I went to university I got to grips with the technical aspects of motorsport and realised how many opportunities there were. It suddenly stopped being just a sport and started being a career option.”

How was your experience growing up in UK?

“Everything was so different, from friends to school to climate,” begins Charanya as she remembers her journey to the UK. “It was just a whole new experience and I was trying to understand a whole new culture.”

But by the time she was studying at The English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College in Hartelepool, County Durham, music had helped welcome the teenager to her adopted homeland.

“Playing music, and playing it on lots of different instruments, just made me so happy!” Charanya recalls with a laugh. “I can play the western flute and the bamboo Indian flute; I learn one thing and then I want to learn something else. But I never considered a career in music – it’s always been a hobby. It’s different from work. It’s relaxation, escapism.”

What did you study?

In terms of mental stimulation, though, she realised early on that her passions lay elsewhere.

“The beauty of maths?” she ponders. “Well, it is a puzzle to be solved and the answers are either right or wrong. Growing up, that certainty was quite nice. With my other interests in music and art, it’s very, very subjective. You never know if you’re correct. I liked that certainty and precision in maths. No grey areas!”

Physics, too, spoke to the A-level student in meaningful, practical ways. “It’s about being able to relate what you’ve learned to actual life; to relate it to me as I walk down the road. Physics is not abstract – you can actually see it. Think about Newton’s Laws of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Think about gravity… These things help you understand how we literally walk on the earth.”

A-levels in maths, further maths, physics, chemistry and biology focused Charanya’s ambitions and pushed her towards her choice of university degree: an “M-Eng”, a Master of Engineering, with a focus on Aeronautical Engineering. No wonder @JaguarRacing were keen to hire her.

During her studies at Imperial College London she undertook a year’s industrial placement. The world-beating British automotive industry was her goal. She wanted to get under the hood, literally and figuratively, of the latest R&D in aerodynamics.

What did you like about Automobile Engineering?

“I was modelling in CAD, and I was also able to work in the computer in CFD,” she relates with eyes-wide enthusiasm. Computer Aided Design we might know; Computational Fluid Dynamics is less familiar to the layperson but integral to the automotive engineer’s work. “What I also really enjoyed was being able to test in the wind tunnel. Everything worked at such a fast pace. I could design something and then in about 10 days be able to hold the part in my hand and test it in the wind tunnel. I was able to be part of the full cycle.”

Can you tell us about a specific part that she designed?

“I can’t tell you too much in detail because it’s all fairly confidential,” she affirms. “But let’s just say I worked on the rear end of the car, on the rear brake duct winglets.”

What did you do after graduation?

After graduating from university in 2014, a highly qualified and highly motivated Charanya went straight into employment into her hobby-turned-passion-turned career path: cars.

“I became a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now, two years on, I’m a performance engineer on the Formula E project with @JaguarRacing. This means that while we’re at race events I’ll be working closely with the driver to look at the data from the car and identify areas we can improve for better on-track performance. And because we are a small team the role is really diverse. When we’re back at the factory I get to work on lots of different areas of the car – suspension, energy management, and I particularly enjoy working with computer simulations.”

Are opportunities in this industry the same for women as they are for men?

“Absolutely,” Charanya says firmly. “This industry is so good because it’s purely results-driven and the focus is more on your capabilities. In such an environment it’s fantastic because it really doesn’t matter about your gender. If you’ve got the talent, and you are driven, and you can get the result, great – you’ll get the same opportunities as a male counterpart.”

“Also, the perception of an engineer is totally different from the reality,” chips in Charanya. “You don’t have to work in a dirty environment – I don’t come home in an oil-covered boiler suit.” She points out that both she and Noodle are Millennials, members of the digitally-savvy, future-grabbing, experience-sharing generation. These are the youngsters who could embrace engineering more readily than any before it. “I enjoy working in a hands-on environment,” she agrees. “I want to work with the products I’ve designed, not just work with them on computer.”

Her passion comes from her studies and from her training. They’ve helped Charanya develop an understanding of the weight of history and also the pressure of tomorrow.

“We’ve had so many decades working on conventional engines and conventional automobiles,” says the engineer, “so it’s understandable that there’s still such a gap in the technology for electric vehicles – in comparison, that research and drive has only been happening for a short time. So this industry has a great opportunity to give a lot more oomph to drive that tech forwards. And if you think about it, Formula 1 helped engine development so much in terms of the normal combustion engine. So Formula E presents a golden opportunity to do the same for electric vehicles.”

Is the message about the importance of eco-friendly cars getting out there?

“It’s getting there,” Charanya nods slowly in reply. “But no one really questions why they’re wasting this water or that bit of electricity. We do, still, take things for granted. It’s a simple truth: we do need to focus more on alternative energy sources.”