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!

Saturday, 18 October 2014


On to the big story of last week…a trip to Japan!  Actually, our trip was off to a great start as soon as we walked out of our flat in Milton Keynes.  We had a taxi waiting for us.  So, we proceeded to load our bags into the taxi outside after confirming the name under the booking with the driver.  A minute later we found out the destination for said taxi was to be Cranfield University rather than Heathrow Airport, and the booking name had been confused because the driver spoke very broken English.  We awkwardly grabbed our bags back out of the taxi.  Thankfully the intended taxi wasn’t hard to find, parked about 20 yards away.  We hopped in, made damn sure it was our actual ride, and made our way to the airport.

Getting ready to board at Heathrow!

The flight to Tokyo from London is 12 hours going, 12 and a half coming back.  So what did we do on the flight out?  Learned!  My girlfriend, Hope, studied abroad in Japan and retained a lot of the language and cultural knowledge she picked up while she was there.  Let me just say, there’s no better opportunity and character-building experience a college kid can have than to study abroad.  If you’re reading this and you’re a student, do it.  You can wait an extra semester or two to graduate if you need to!  It’s very unlikely that you’ll get such an easy chance to immerse yourself into a new culture while you’re at such a young age, and the experience is absolutely incredible and life changing.  Get out of your comfort zone and go study abroad!

Anyway, Hope generously took the time to record some video and audio clips of some basic Japanese words and phrases, along with emails about unique cultural norms.  These were an invaluable way to
learn some basic important things quickly.  I spent a long time learning them over and over again, and it was cool to start learning a language that’s so far different from any Latin or Greek-based language.

Some of my lesson!
I also nerded out on some RCVD (The Milliken brothers' book, for the uninitiated) and OptimumG vehicle dynamics literature.  Meanwhile, Will bought about $100 worth of snacks, so he pretty much ate and watched movies the entire time.  Just kidding.  But he did have snacks all over the place, which was quite comical.  He's one of the funniest guys I've ever met, constantly bringing well-placed hilarity to the group.  Jason read a lot of a book and we both also watched a movie or two.  We all caught some timely sleep to try and avoid jetlag effects as much as possible.

Will sharing his bounty of snacks.  Ok, some of it is mine...
Jason peering out over Japan on approach

We landed in Tokyo on Tuesday morning (locally) due to the 8-hour time difference.  Our Japanese taxi driver was waiting for us, and he was a cool dude.  He was able to say “Let’s go!” and “We here!” with enthusiasm, but that was pretty much his repertoire of English.  I tested out my Japanese on him, and he seemed excited that I knew how to say even a couple of words, but we didn’t really try to converse.  For the majority of the two hour drive, we took in the awesome Japanese cityscapes and countryside.

The 2080ft (634m) tall Tokyo Skytree.  That's 0.4 miles!

My picture above doesn't do justice to the size of the Skytree.  Check out the photo from NBC below:

Second tallest structure in the world

The outskirts of Tokyo by day, along the Sumida River
Enjoying the journey!
About two hours later, we arrived at our hotel in Utsunomiya.  We weren’t able to check in for another four hours, so we dropped our bags and ventured off to explore the area.   First, we needed some cash.  Having asked one of the clerks at the hotel where the closest bank was, we followed the map she gave us to said bank.

What is this thing you call a map, anyway??

We found the bank fairly easily, and when we walked inside, there was a big open room with simple white and gray floor tiling and fluorescent lighting, with a load of people in a waiting room with simple chairs and clerks with dividers between their desks. Basically, it looked like a motor vehicles office.  Confused, we stood by the door we’d walked through, and we were greeted with blank stares, so we promptly turned around and walked back out. It’s interesting when you’re the minority.

Walking around Utsunomiya.  Jason closed his eyes.  Oh well.

Utsunomiya is a fairly large town with lots of infrastructure, shopping, and a main line train station.  However, as is often the case with mostly industrial (non-tourism) towns, it didn’t seem to be very diverse, at least from our short experience there.  That doesn’t mean its people weren’t warm and welcoming; we just didn’t understand how things worked.  We walked down to another entrance of the bank, where Will found the ATMs were.  It turned out that none of our cards worked there, and I nearly freaked out when I thought the ATM I was using had eaten my card.  Of course, I couldn’t understand the Japanese writing to figure out how to get it back, but Jason realized the ATM was out of order and found the cancel button on the touchscreen that was covered by the “out-of-order” sign.  Oops.

My first Japanese money... 10 grand?
We had passed a 7-11 on the way to the bank, so we went there and found an ATM which worked.  The exchange rate is roughly 100 JPY (yen) to 1 USD, and the ATM only let us take out a minimum denomination of 10,000 yen, or about $100.  The bills look pretty cool, and 10,000 is a big number.  We bought some bottled drinks, and I got what I thought was green tea.  I was wrong.

Any clues, friends?
I have no idea what this is, but maybe somebody can translate for me.  It tasted terrible haha…anyway, enough of my griping about a drink.  On we went, somewhat aimlessly wandering.  We came across a 1600 year old Shinto shrine in the middle of the city, and that was absolutely amazing to see.

Utsunomiya Futaarayama-Jinja Shine
We stayed there for a little before going back down the massive stairway and finding a place to relax for a minute and get an idea of where we wanted to go on the map.  Naturally, we chose Starbucks, where I got a drink I’m much more familiar with: water.

Huge outdoor shopping area
After recouping there for a bit, we walked around the city more and through a huge semi-outdoor mall that extended for several blocks.  We felt like going for lunch and a few beers, so we found a small restaurant with a little raised deck out front.  I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of it, but I suppose it was nice to just relax and enjoy the place rather than taking pictures the whole time.  The place was tiny and had one server, who spoke essentially no English except to point to the menu and tell us it was chicken, beef, or pork, so I got to try out my Japanese again when he’d be coming around to check on things or offer us another round of beer.  This led to a couple of awkward moments where we had to bail on the conversation we were trying to have or word I was trying to learn, but he was really cool and patient, and he was also keen to try to understand what I was saying or asking.  From my studying at university, lessons from Hope, and brief experience there, it's evident the Japanese are a very polite people, and in their culture try to avoid embarrassment or shame in entirety.  This “saving face” type of modus operandi results in a very comfortable environment for learning.  It was good fun trying to talk with him, and we stayed for well over an hour.

Of course nearly all of the script throughout the city is in either complex or simplified Japanese character form, and other than the bits supplemented by Latin alphabet, we have no clue what any of that means.  The language barrier is also immense.  Culture shock is something that can knock you on your ass, but embracing it and looking at it as a fun learning opportunity can result in a much better experience.  I mean, you’re there one way or another, so make the most of it.  It’s all about perspective.  Easy for me to say, since we were there for only two days, only one of which was a struggle to communicate, but still…have fun with it.

On another note, Will was the first to use the restroom in Japan.  Coming back to the table, bewildered, he said, “That toilet has more adjustability than the RB10 rear wing!”  The Japanese must love their bidets, because they are everywhere.  The thing did have upwards of a dozen buttons for different modes and seat heating and whatnot.  Not my sort of thing, but for some, it is surely the ultimate in comfort.

Sweet manhole cover

It was nearly 2pm, so we went back to the hotel.  Pretty well exhausted, we passed out for a few hours.

Not a bad hotel at all

Random I know, but this mirror didn't fog in the center by design.  Pretty badass for us high maintenance people.

We later got back together and watched part of a movie before heading out for dinner.  We walked across the street to a progressive traditional Japanese restaurant.  We took off our shoes and sat at what would normally be a low table, but for us Westerners, the floor beneath the table was removed so that we effectively sat on a bench.  Pretty neat stuff.  We essentially pointed at the menu for what we wanted.  We got a ton of great (and interesting) food, which came out in waves.  Among other things, I had octopus for the first time in my life, which was rather tasty, and the tuna sashimi was excellent.

The restaurant

Jason and Will enjoying our first legit Japanese meal

We hung out for a couple of hours before shipping off to bed.  After a good night's rest, we hit the road again.

Jason packing up to head out
The next evening, we were back to Tokyo.  We passed out for most of the car ride there, exhausted, and we woke up to the awesome lights of downtown Tokyo.  Arriving at the Conrad Hotel, we were greeted with the most amazing accommodations we’ve ever had.  The entire hotel and the rooms were absolutely stunning.  These pictures tell it better than I could.

Insane.  Those curtains were motorized.

Awesome bathroom...
...with another set of motorized blinds.

Yeah, a mini tree in our rooms, complete with its own vile of water
It was hard to leave that place.  It also had a rainfall showerhead, which is the best thing ever put in a bathroom, as well as three sets of automatic blinds…one for the glass panel between the bathroom and bedroom, and two for the massive window that looked out on the city.

View from the window

The three of us caught back up a bit later at the bar in the lobby before heading to dinner at the hotel, since it was a bit late to really go out for food in Tokyo.  I did get myself an awesome wagyu (Kobe) sirloin, and as expected, it’s the best steak I’ve had by far.  We all sat and talked for a while and had a few laughs. 

My buddy John Wallis, who happens to be in Tokyo on assignment from Volvo Trucks, also joined us.  He and I were teammates on Terps Racing a couple of years ago.  Catching up with him, ableit for a short time, was great.

The hotel lounge

She's not playing the piano... she's DJing

This hotel bar gives "Top Shelf" a whole new meaning

View of Tokyo by night from the bar

By the time we left dinner, it was too late to really go out and have any fun, since we needed to be up at 5am to get to the airport in time for our flight back to London.  But the short trip to Japan was packed with a lot of fun and good learning experiences, and I definitely hope to be back for a longer stay.
Consumable souvenirs: 2 bottles of Japanese sake and, among other sweets, green tea Kit-Kats

Can't forget the Japanese Red Bull!

Will, semi delirious, enjoying his massage

Will thoroughly enjoyed a massage chair in the Tokyo airport, and we all slept and relaxed on the plane ride home.  Upon arriving back in London, our taxi driver again had spelled my name the exact same wrong way as the driver from a few weeks ago.  Worth it for a ride home!

Not again...

We got back to our flat in the late afternoon on Thursday, still stunned at the fact that we even went to Japan.  More on the trip later, but what a week!

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