Living life in the fast lane

“This year, we’ve optimized the car for reliability", Jade Gibouin, CEO of the EPFL Racing Team. © Alain Herzog 2024 EPFL

“This year, we’ve optimized the car for reliability", Jade Gibouin, CEO of the EPFL Racing Team. © Alain Herzog 2024 EPFL

Mechanical engineering student Jade Gibouin is this year’s CEO of the EPFL Racing Team, which will unveil its new electric racing car on this Monday evening. She devotes all spare time to this project – and she’s proud that women now make up one-quarter of the team.

Sometimes in life, you have to stop overthinking and jump right in. That’s exactly what Jade Gibouin did when she enrolled at EPFL “on a whim, two hours before the deadline.” After graduating from Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where she studied science, she opted for a degree in mechanical engineering – a broad field offering ample career opportunities. But above all, it was the ideal first step toward her goal of joining the EPFL Racing Team, an interdisciplinary MAKE project where students design an electric racing car to compete in the Formula Student championship.

Gibouin first became interested in motorsports after watching the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. She was especially fascinated by everything that happens behind the scenes on race day. As a child, she would occasionally watch Grand Prix races with her grandfather, a mechanic, but she never really got into the world of Formula 1. Now, as CEO of the EPFL Racing Team, motor racing is her big passion. “I devote way more than 15 hours a week to this project,” says Gibouin. “I work on it in my free time, on the weekends and during school breaks. You have to be highly organized because the days are very long. But we’re all passionate about what we do, and that makes a huge difference.”

Gibouin’s first year at EPFL was marred by the pandemic and the closure of the campus: “I’d only just arrived in Switzerland. It was a tough time but I still managed to meet a few people.” An outgoing type who isn’t easily fazed, she quickly signed up for the Racing Team – the very reason she’d chosen EPFL in the first place. “I applied to join the club at the end of the school year,” she explains. “I didn’t have the skills to actually build the car, but my interest in the communications and logistics side of things earned me a place on the team. My natural curiosity meant I was able to learn on the job.”

Twice as many women

One thing led to another and, after joining the committee as CFO and COO, Gibouin ultimately found herself promoted to CEO, spearheading a team of 80 students – including 20 women – from different sections of the School. “Women make up 16% of mechanical engineering students,” she says. “Like motorsports, it’s still a male-dominated field. But the people are nice enough, even if as a woman you sometimes have to speak a little louder to make yourself heard.” Gibouin is determined to get more women to sign up for the team. She takes part in science outreach workshops such as the Coding Club for Girls and is eager to show that motorsports isn’t solely the preserve of men. This year’s EPFL Racing Team has four female team leaders. Among them is Ece Ergöz, an electronics and electrical engineering student and head of the team’s Power Electronics division. “There are twice as many women on the team this year, especially in key positions,” says Ergöz. “We feel as though we have more of a voice. I hope it continues that way.”

Optimization and camaraderie

Gibouin also believes it’s important to create a climate where everyone feels at ease, and to not sweep any potential conflicts under the carpet. “This year, the VP and I sat down with each team member for a 10-minute discussion,” she explains. “That gave us a chance to see how everyone was feeling and to identify any problems.” Managing a team, canvassing companies and negotiating contracts are just some of the skills Gibouin has had to learn on the go. “She’s detail-oriented and hard-working, and she really wants everyone to pull together to achieve the team’s goals,” says Samuel Cotture, who coordinates EPFL’s SPOT and SKIL prototyping facilities and serves as co-advisor to the team along with André Hodder. Cotture, who’s been involved in the project since its inception, adds: “The EPFL Racing Team has grown remarkably over the years. This time around, there are a lot of new team members, so we’re very much in the optimization phase. It’s unusual to see technical progress on this scale in such a short space of time.”

Women make up 16% of mechanical engineering students. Like motorsports, it’s still a male-dominated field. But the people are nice enough, even if as a woman you sometimes have to speak a little louder to make yourself heard.

Jade Gibouin, CEO of the EPFL Racing Team

The team will unveil its new car on Monday, 3 June. The four-wheel-drive racer, which took nine months to design and build, features a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, an autonomous driving system and a 9.3 KWh battery. “In the interest of sustainability, we try to recycle as many car parts as possible from one model to the next,” says Gibouin. “This year, we’ve optimized the car for reliability. Building it is only the first step. You also have to make sure it runs dependably on the track.Last year, we introduced a lot of new technology but we didn’t have enough time to test and familiarize ourselves with the car before the races. We encountered a few problems and it took us several hours to resolve them. But we’ve learned from that experience.” These are the very principles behind EPFL’s MAKE projects: learning by doing, improving through trial and error, and innovating by pooling knowledge across disciplines.

This year, the EPFL Racing Team will compete in five races, including one in Switzerland. Once the racing season is over, Gibouin will be able to take her foot off the gas, start swimming again and regain a regular social life. As for the future, a career in Formula 1 remains a hopeful but distant dream: “If an opportunity arises, of course I’ll take it. But it’s a fiercely competitive field. Some former EPFL Racing Team members have made it, but places are few and far between.” In the meantime, Hodder is calling her – there’s urgent business to attend to. In typical fashion, Gibouin jumps right in.

Author: Laureline Duvillard

Source: People

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