Lots of 10-year-old girls write letters to themselves. Few people say that when they are older they will be the team manager of Italian motorcycle rider Valentino Rossi.
Almost 20 years later, mechanical engineer Emilie Weaving is still chasing her dream, her fingers tightly wrapped around the accelerator. Her journey has taken her down unexpected roads and through sharp corners of life.
Emilie grew up in a motorsport family. His grandfather raced Grand Prix motorcycles and has a corner named after him at the iconic Isle of Man circuit. His mother rode a Ducati Monster and introduced his father to the lifestyle. At 17, Emilie was on her own motorcycle. She reportedly bought a scooter the year before, but her parents won a tough bargain. There was always MotoGP (and its most famous champion, Rossi) on TV, and the garage in their Shropshire home was always full of bikes.
At school, Emilie was attracted to math and science. And engineering. She loved building catapults and castles and going wild on each other. Before long, she had a Yamaha FZR400, friends to ride with, and a part-time job at a Ducati dealership. She learned her trade there and even visited the famous Ducati factory in Italy. When the store was quiet, she and the others dismantled motorbike engines for fun.
But the dream of getting closer to the racetrack rumbled in the background, louder and louder. Eventually Emilie sat down to write dozens of emails to any British superbike team she could join, asking them to let her join the crew.
She was passionate but lacked experience. Five teams responded. One of them decided to give it a chance. The team, CN Racing, was led by a woman who liked Emilie’s boldness. She invited her to a team event this weekend. But there was a problem. Emilie was away for a shift at the Ducati dealership and her boss refused to give her time off. The notice was too short. If she wanted to go, he said, she would have to quit.
“So I slept on it and handed in my resignation the next day,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘fuck you, I’m going to go while I can’. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew it was the right thing.
The bet is successful. Emilie spent four happy years in the British Superbike Championship racing paddocks, working on 600cc supersport and 1000cc superstock bikes (which are more suitable for the road and allow less racing modification). As the bikes screeched at 150 or 200 mph, she helped change tires, tune engines and repair those that crashed. She met her heroes, traveled and turned a part-time passion into a full-time job. She also met a JCB engineer who told her about an apprenticeship program his company was running.
It was time to leave the circuit and Emilie applied for the apprenticeship. There were only a handful of positions and they had all been filled. But, unbelievably, an apprentice withdrew at the last minute and Emilie intervened. For six years she studied and worked at JCB, developing and testing diesel engines.
It was at JCB that she became a Stem ambassador. With the right support, she got comfortable talking about engineering to strangers, often young people. She realized how little awareness there was of the wide and fascinating range of jobs in the field.
“You Google ‘engineering’ and you get a picture of a white guy wearing a hard hat,” she explains. “But engineering is so inclusive and so rewarding. We have the opportunity to shape the future. To find solutions to the world’s biggest problems. And to change stereotypes along the way.
This year, Emilie joined Ruroc, a “super ambitious” company that manufactures motorcycle helmets. His work ranges from safety testing helmets (by dropping them on steel anvils or pulling them with hooks) to developing an internal wind tunnel for more sophisticated aerodynamic, thermal and acoustic testing. She loves being close to motorcycles again – doing “what excites you” – and the freedom to tinker and create.
Emilie runs The Female Engineer blog, rides two motorcycles (a 1990s FZR400 is her “special bike” while the other, a Suzuki GS500, is the reliable commuter) and attends as many music concerts as Covid-19 allows it (think Guns N’ Roses, Alter Bridge, Metallica). She also plays baseball and goes out as often as she can.
And Emilie still has the letter she wrote when she was 10.
“I’m never going to settle down unless I scratch the itch of working as an engineer in a MotoGP paddock,” she says, playfully noting that Valentino Rossi still runs a race team.
Want the best engineering stories delivered straight to your inbox? The Professional Engineering Newsletter gives you vital updates on the most cutting-edge engineering and exciting new job opportunities. To register, click here.
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.