Engineering alumna makes history at Indianapolis 500
Nicole Rotondo ’16 (mechanical engineering) always wanted to be in motorsports. Taking her passion for cars and racing, she built an engineering career that put her on the fast track with Honda’s Performance Development (HPD) team.
She made race engineering history as one of the first women to hold the position of HPD trackside engineer on a winning Indianapolis 500 team when Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 car crossed the finish line first at the 2022 race.
As a trackside engineer, Rotondo is assigned to a specific team for the season, from March to September, attending each race and providing a link between drivers on the track and the pit crew— a tight-knit group of engineers, mechanics, and engine builders who support the sophisticated, high-tech race cars.
“I did my best to align my experiences with my passion in every way that I could,” said Rotondo. “I chose RIT because of the automotive option. Any amount of practical experience you could have for motorsport jobs is super helpful, especially if you want to go into racing. They want to know you have practical experience in addition to a traditional education.”
Being the drivetrain lead on the RIT Formula team provided practical experience, and her traditional education included understanding the inner workings of internal combustion engines. Working on her own car in one of RIT’s parking lots counted as much as her co-ops with Toyota and Meritor.
“I was never really a math or physics nerd, just mechanically inclined,” she admitted. “I was really good at using a wrench, and my dad didn’t want me to be a mechanic, so I had to figure out math.”
Rotondo also figured out how to maneuver in a male-dominated profession and found that it was secondary to being a successful engineer contributing to a major race team.
“I am not any different than my male counterparts,” said Rotondo, who serves as an engine calibrator and who has been with Honda for five years. “There is nothing about me and my responsibilities that are different than what they do and how they interact with the team.”
On race day, Rotondo and her teammates held their breath until the checkered flag was waved and Ericsson’s 8 Car zoomed across the finish line.
“It was such a big moment,” she said. “Everybody knows the pressure you are under. You have confidence in the team, but you are still feeling the high risk, high reward part of the job all the time.”
Rotondo will continue with the No. 8 car this year, her fourth year with the team.
In October, she and a Honda colleague also will participate in the 2023 Rebelle Rally, a 10-day, all-female navigation rally that starts in Nevada and ends more than 1,500 miles later in southwest California.
“I don’t think I can find my way out of a forest with a compass,” she said. “I’m going to have to learn how to navigate, how to drive off road, and try to fit all of this in with the full race season. It will be an adventure.”