Unitec student on fast track to racing career

  • Conal Dempsey Luke

Unitec’s sponsorship deal with Dempsey Wood Motor Racing is giving both Unitec students and staff a rare opportunity to experience first-hand what it’s like to be part of a racing team pit crew. 

One student lucky enough to be selected for the Dempsey Wood Pit Experience at Hampton Downs was Luke Chang, a third-year Bachelor of Applied Technology (Automotive Engineering) student. 

Luke has always dreamed about building a car from scratch – it’s this passion for building and understanding motor vehicles that first led him to decide to study automotive engineering at Unitec. 

During his pit experience, Luke received top marks from Managing Director Conal Dempsey and team for his performance under the stressful, high-pressure situations he faced. For Luke, the most exciting experience of the weekend was being part of a successful all-night effort to replace a Porsche’s engine block after a spark plug exploded during the practice run. 

“We changed the complete engine, because in Porsches you basically can’t do anything under the car, you have to take the engine out and replace the whole thing.” 

The differences between the ‘Unitec Porsche’ and the cars that automotive engineering students are used to working with provided Luke with a steep but valuable learning curve. 

“I think the skills needed are totally different because the cars in Conal’s team are completely different to what I’m learning on here. They are Porsches and the engine structure for those cars is set up for racing...it’s not the same as a normal car.” 

However, the weekend’s challenges didn’t stop with the mad dash to the start line after Friday night’s mishap. Due to the lack of time available before the qualifying race the team couldn’t warm up the tyres, resulting in multiple pit stops to pick up a replacement oil cooler, a spare front bumper and two new slick tyres. 

The pit experience has led to new and exciting challenges for Luke, who was introduced through this experience to Peter Booth, the owner of Motorscience, a Porsche specialist workshop. Luke has subsequently been offered a volunteer apprenticeship at Motorscience and spends two days a week there, allowing him to gain further practical industry experience before he graduates. 

Luke’s advice to future automotive engineering students is to get involved with this fantastic opportunity, which he describes as “an exciting experience” and one that may be a chance in a lifetime. 

Love cars? Want a diverse and interesting career? Check out the Automotive Engineering programmes at www.automotive.unitec.ac.nz.