I Want Your Job: Motor racing mechanic

One mistake can cause a crash
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The Independent Online

Matthew Conroy, 26, is a mechanic for the Master Motorsport team in the Formula BMW UK Championship.

How would you describe your job?

I'm responsible for my team's car before it goes on the track. At a race, I'll make sure the car has the right amount of fuel, clean it, and check that it's safe to drive. Formula BMW races only last 20 minutes, so there's no need for pitstops and wheel changes. Most of the hard work gets done back at the factory. I work on the car by myself, although at races I have a number two mechanic, as well as the engineer and driver. The car is a little like a carbon fibre bathtub, with an engine in the back. Certain parts have to be changed, checked and maintained regularly. It's put through an awful load of strain during a race, so I have to take things to bits to make sure they aren't cracked or damaged.

What's your working week like?

We normally leave for race meetings on Thursday and come back Sunday night. There's practice on Friday, qualifying sessions on Saturday and the actual races are on Sunday. The driver who makes the fastest lap in the qualifying sessions will start furthest up the grid in pole position in the next day's race. The tiredness doesn't hit me until Wednesday - you get used to working long hours. Usually, races are once a fortnight, but you can work 19 days in a row on back-to-back races and think nothing of it.

What do you love most about the job?

This is what I've wanted to do since I was at school. I've always loved taking bits apart and putting them together again - now I'm getting paid to play with racing cars all day. It's a great thing to do if you're into motorsport. And you get to travel abroad a lot - at the end of November, I'm going to Valencia for the Formula BMW World Final.

What's tough about it?

Early mornings and long hours. You can be up at 5.30am, to be at the track at 6.30am. And if the car is involved in an accident, it's your responsibility to work on it until it's repaired and safe to drive, which could take until the late hours of the night. That can get tough, but you do get used to working hard.

What skills does a fantastic race mechanic need to have?

You have to love motorsport. When the cars are out on the track it's quite a buzz, but at the same time it's a hell of a responsibility, because the driver is flying round the circuit at 140 mph. You've got to have massive attention to detail, because everything's got to be right. If you've done a nut and bolt up loosely and it falls off, you're in serious trouble - the driver could be killed. You also need to have common sense and be well-organised, practical and hands-on. The best mechanics work well under pressure - I've had to change engines in an hour.

What advice would you give someone longing for a job as a race mechanic?

You don't need formal qualifications, but you do need mechanical understanding. Some colleges run motorsport courses, but the most important thing is experience. Try to get involved in racing - go-karting is the perfect start. Talk to people on the circuits. Once you've got experience, bug people with your CV. Racing teams get sent hundreds of applications, so yours has to stand out.

What's the salary and career path like?

At entry level in national motorsport, you could earn £15,000 a year, but that could increase to £23-24,000 with experience. A number one mechanic in Formula One might be on £40,000, plus benefits and bonuses. You can rise through different levels of racing, up to Formula One.

For information on Formula BMW, go to www.formulabmwuk.com. For information and links on careers in motorsport, go to the Motorsport Industry Association website, www.the-mia.com/

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