The purpose of this blog is to inform those who are interested about my journey as one of three students from around the world who earned placements at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing as a result of the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy. Family, friends, colleagues, aspiring engineers, and any other followers are welcome to visit this page and, if desired, give me feedback or ask questions. It is an effort to streamline documenting the next 12 months for all of these varying audiences, some of which do not participate in social media.

I have never written a journal, never written a blog. This is a first for me. This being the most meaningful and fantastic opportunity I could ever dream of, I would like to share best I can the details of what goes on in my day-to-day during the academy. I am incredibly honored to have won a placement at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing, and I seek to make this opportunity worth everything it possibly can be.

I will write once or twice a week, depending on the accumulation of events and catching up on the previous few days. If you'd like, you can sign up for email notifications for when I create a new post! See the link toward the bottom of this page. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you so much for visiting!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Arrival to the UK

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 - Sunday, 14 September 2014

On Wednesday, I finally arrived in the UK, 2 days behind schedule due to delays in getting my visa.  I departed Philly at 10:15pm and arrived at 10:15am local time at Heathrow.  Flying on a 787 was a pretty awesome surprise, and it was mesmerizing to watch how much the wings flex.  For those of you who aren’t aerospace nerds, the 787 is the first jumbo jet to use composites as the primary structural materials, and this will change how planes are built.

View of 787 wing over UK

787 docked at Heathrow

When I arrived, I got through border control really quickly (for once) and got my bags immediately from the claim.  Then proceeded to look for the hired driver for 20 minutes.  When I found him, he had an interesting spelling of my name.  No doubt this was a phonetic interpretation from over the phone…

My hired driver and name board...
We took an hour drive north, grabbed Gary, and went to Milton Keynes Central.  Gary manages the IPEA on behalf of Infiniti.  Great guy.  Filming had been mentioned as a possibility, and sure enough the film crew was there when I arrived at the train station.  I had no idea that Jason was coming to pick me up in his Q50; that was a pleasant surprise.  Filming started outside of the car, continued inside, all the way up to when we pulled up to our flat.  We did some more filming there of walking the grounds upon arrival… and man, the place is beautiful.  There’s a gorgeous courtyard in the middle of all of the sets of flats, including a pool, gardens, paths, and flowers.

The flat!
Getting ready for some filming
Neil prepping the interviews

Then I got to see our flat.  My first walk-in reactions were also filmed, and then we did some interviews.  Despite having seen some pictures on Jason’s Facebook page prior to arriving, they didn’t do justice to how nice the place is.  We’re living in a 3-bedroom, completely serviced (furnished from head to toe plus maid service) flat.  Jason got the pick of the largest room due to a hat draw 2 days earlier, but the other two rooms are very reasonably sized, and mine manages to hold all of my stuff nicely.  I may need a small desk at some point, and there’s some other things I could use, but it’s really awesome to just be able to settle in without needing to furnish anything.

The inside of our flat

The best part is the balcony, which overlooks the courtyard.  Poor Neil, the director, couldn’t judge where the doorway for the balcony was since the glass was pristine.  Admittedly, I had to take my time figuring that out.  But unfortunately for Neil, he walked full force into the window adjacent the doorway, which resulted in a nice face print on the window and a few “sympathetic” chuckles from the rest of the film crew.  Surely it didn’t feel great… Anyway, the balcony is large enough to have a small group of people out there socializing, and I can see that area and the living room being a lot of fun.  Today we had good weather, though, so we’ll have to see what kind of use it gets in the colder months.  I’m told this idea of sunny weather is uncharacteristic for England…

The balcony
Awesome view of the courtyard from the balcony

After the film crew left, Jason and I grabbed food, I hit the grocery store, Sainsbury’s.  It is literally right below our apartments, so I’d say that’s pretty convenient.  Meanwhile, Will spent the day karting, and Jason had joined him prior to filming.  Hopefully we’ll all be able to go karting together soon.  Will is joining us in the next day or so, as he is still moving in from home.  Jason and I then hung out off and on while I unpacked and got organized.  It was an exhausting trip and first day, but I’m beyond excited to finally be here!

Thursday was dedicated to a few more things to get settled in.  Jason and I walked a few blocks down to Milton Keynes’ massive mall, Intu (one of many around the UK).  The goal for the day was to set up a bank account and a phone number.  Luckily for me, Jason had been the guinea pig on this a couple of days earlier, and he found out exactly what we needed to open an account at HSBC.  We also decided to get a phone plan at O2, based on opinions from having chatted with locals and on their SIM-only plans.  We quickly came to find out that O2 wouldn’t give us a 12-month plan (10-15% cheaper per month than a month-to-month) without a UK debit card for potential international charges, but HSBC couldn’t print us a card on day 1 of opening an account.

As a result, we looked into a few other banks, and one was able to print a card on the first day, but they required a piece of residency documentation that Jason and I will not receive for up to 6 weeks.  After some thinking and talking to O2, we realized the month-to-month plans can be paid with cash and decided to go with the cheapest ones for the next week or two while we wait for our debit cards to arrive in the post.  So for now, we can’t make calls from other countries with our phones, but it’s a very temporary problem that will be able to offload once we get a 12-month plan with international charging capabilities.  We left the mall a couple of hours later with a UK bank account and a UK phone!

For those who need my phone number, please message me.  You can text me via WhatsApp, a free downloadable internet-based texting app that makes it relatively easy to communicate internationally.

Jason and I discovered, with awe and wonder, that Costco exists in the UK!  Jason’s membership is valid here, and, as you’d expect, that was our next trip.  £200 later, we were set for most of the basic food we’d need for a while.  Part of this was Jason’s “UFO” purchase, which is effectively one of those r/c helicopters with a spherical crash cage.  It’s actually pretty badass and a surprisingly good source of entertainment.

Jason playing with his UFO

Jason had been driving, since I don’t have my car yet.  He’d been doing well with driving on the left-hand side of the road, but upon leaving Costco, decided to take a right turn onto the far lane of a 2-lane road.  Now, this is a correct assumption for driving on the left side of the road.  However, this turned out to not be the left side of the road, but rather the right lane of a highway that we were going the WRONG way on!  We were lucky as hell that nobody was coming from that direction, and I pointed it out to Jason who pulled an immediate U-turn back into the off-ramp.  On the second try, Jason got it right haha.  There were cars traveling at 60-70mph, which was haunting to think about…

Speaking of which, the UK is confusing as hell about units.  They do not operate purely on either standard units or on the metric system.  It is some combination of the two.  For example, fluids are in litres and weights tend to be in grams, but speed limits are posted in MPH and distances on the highways are measured in yards.  Anyway, I digress.

Will came back around that evening, and we all made our own personal pizzas for dinner with his dough recipe.  I decided to go with buffalo chicken, while the other two went for more standard pizzas with a variety of typical meat toppings and fresh mozzarella.  For the rest of the night, we ate, drank a couple beers, and caught up.

Homemade pizza with the boys

Friday was an exciting day!  We woke up early and walked to the train station, which takes roughly 15 minutes, so it’s not bad at all.  For £19 (one way), we hopped on the London Overground train to Euston Station.  Jason and I then got our Oyster cards with Will’s help, which was easy enough, and we proceeded to our first experience of the morning rush hour on the Tube!

First time on the Tube

A couple of relatively simple transfers later, which were definitely aided by Will’s expertise, we found ourselves on the streets of London…for Jason and I, this was the first time we’d stepped foot in the city.  Double-decker buses were all over the place, which is a neat classic London trait to see for the first time.

First time on the streets of London

The whole point of this trip was primarily to sign our contracts for Infiniti-Red Bull Racing at the office in London.  The office is only a few blocks from where we exited the underground.  Yassen greeted us from the reception and brought us up to the rest of the team.  We finally met some of the awesome peeps behind the scenes who have been a part of the effort with the IPEA.

Gary and Tom then went over some things with us.  First, we got a sneak peak of the edits for the latest set of videos to soon be released!  I will post that link when it is published.  Other links for past videos will be available on the sidebar.  The upcoming video edits look spectacular.  After some HR stuff, we signed the contracts!  What an incredibly exciting moment.  It’s so hard to take it all in, but it finally started to sink in what we’re about to do.

Will celebrating with the helmet at the London office

After a bit more hanging out and touring the facility, we went off to get lunch.  I saw a few cyclists in the road amongst the very busy London traffic, which reminded me of the Top Gear episode in which Clarkson and May are cycling around London scared out of their minds.  This gave Will the brilliant idea of renting the city bikes.

Ordering our cycles for the day

Despite some definite moments of peril, it was a lot of fun.  And cheap!!  You can rent the bikes for 24 hours for only £2 each, though you need to dock them at a station every 30 minutes.  The cool thing is you can drop off your bike and pick up any other bike in the city within that 24 hours.  It makes touring a bit more possible.  We first went through Hyde Park, London’s equivalent to Central Park in New York.  I’ll be honest; it’s a whole lot more beautiful. 

Hyde Park

I’ll try to get my own pic up the next time we visit!  Jason and Will and I then went to Buckingham Palace, which was also awesome to finally see in person.  After spending some time there, we went to find lunch in the Covent Garden area, which took a while since we needed to find a docking station for the bikes, and the first four we came across were full.  We docked in Chinatown, which ended up being a cool place to stumble upon that wasn’t part of our itinerary.

Me in front of Buckingham Palace

We walked through the Covent Garden Market, which is gorgeous and full of restaurants and shops.  Some poor bloke (picking up the British English is going to be a necessity…) was sitting in a museum truck as a prop.  God knows how long his shift was.

Covent Garden Market with the characteristic London phone booth
Poor bloke!

Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant, was a couple of blocks away.  The three of us stopped there and some celebratory Japanese beers along with a pretty tasty lunch.  Afterward, we proceeded to ride around London some more.  The London Eye, Big Ben, and the House of Parliament were among our stops.  We had a lot of fun along the way.  It’s so cool to be back in Europe (I studied abroad in Italy in 2010) and see the beautiful architecture.  The immense history and deep-rooted culture of this place is so pervasive and awesome.

Will and Jason riding through the streets of London
Looking down the River Thames
Embankment Bridge
The London Eye
London skyline including Big Ben and the House of Parliament
Jason taking a picture of me taking a picture
Selfie with Big Ben, because why not?
Big Ben!

I left around 3:30 for a special event in Milton Keynes, leaving Jason and Will to frolic about some more.  I found my own way through the tube back to the overground, where I took a nice Virgin train back to Milton Keynes.  When I got back to the flat around 5, my car was waiting for me!  Like the other two, I received a black Infiniti Q50 Premium Executive edition, with a 2.2-litre turbo diesel.

My beautiful Q50
(with a very temporary parking job)

The delivery driver, Pete, was gracious enough to show me some of the controls.  He needed to get back to the train station, and I offered to take him rather than let him walk.  Of course he accepted like any reasonable person.  When I told him this would be my first time driving on the wrong side of the road, he looked at me blankly for a moment, then asked, “Ever?” 

“Yep, first time ever.”  He stared at me blankly for a second with an uncertain grin, and then he and I just laughed.  Mad.  “Birth by fire,” he said.  It was rush hour.  Thankfully Milton Keynes isn’t anything nearly the size of London, but there is still some considerable traffic.  So, with a lot of concentration, I took off and made my way to the train station with no hiccups and dropped Peter off. On the way back, it was a different story.  I got lost… so I pulled off to a car park and popped in the home address on the SatNav system and made my way home uneventfully.

The rest of the evening was dedicated to Skyping with my girlfriend and getting my phone backed up to switch SIM cards.  Jason came back much later, and Will even later than that, and we were able to hang out for a while before passing out.  What a day!

For Saturday, our main goal for the day was to go to IKEA.  IKEA exists throughout Europe (it is Swedish, after all), and one is fairly close to us.  One of our problems is that we do not have adequate space, like a pantry, to store food.  We went there and spent a couple of hours touring the warehouse, finding mostly everything we needed, and  I picked up a few things to help my room feel a bit more like a home and other odds and ends.  The four of us then visited a smaller homestore, then an electronics store, and then Costco again, where Jason picked up an r/c quadcopter.  I must say, the things are fun to mess around with. 

Jason putting together some IKEA furniture

Me putting together even more

Beer and building IKEA furniture was the schedule for the rest of Saturday, and I was able to finally catch up with my parents that evening for the first time since arriving in the UK.  We also all had dinner together, albeit separate meals.  One cool thing is that Jason, Will and I all do love to cook.  I see some good family meals in our future!

The rest of the weekend was not overly eventful.  I prepped food for the next week or so to help ease the burden of eating healthily and caught up on emails and other loose ends, and we all spent a fair bit of time together just getting to know each other better and sharing a ton of laughs.  The guys are really great roommates and like to have good fun.  We took our time to just relax and get focused and prepped for Monday.

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