Case study

How Hannah followed her heart

Choosing whether to follow your head or your heart can be tough decision when it comes to deciding on a course and a university. Hannah initially followed her head, but inevitably her heart won over and she pursued her passion in Motorsport Engineering at Derby.

Head and Heart

Hannah recalls moments in her childhood that led her to the world of motorsport. “I used to go and watch rallies at home,” she says. “I used to go pretty much every year from around the age of 12 and 13. That sparked my interest – rallies more than motorsport – and cars. Then when I turned 17 I got into cars and I’ve really enjoyed knowing more about them. I’ve gone through so many cars since I turned 17!”

She went through a tough time at the start of her University experience: “When I came to the Open Day here, I decided here was where I wanted to go. It was my first choice. The second I walked in I loved it and it felt right. But when Covid hit I decided I wanted to stay close to home”. However after starting a degree in biomedical science at a different university, she left and took a year out then applied to Derby through Clearing. “I always loved cars and motorsport so decided to come and do this and follow what I enjoyed,” she says. 

Hannah with professional racing driver Tom Wood at the Radical SR1 Cup at Donington Park
Hannah with professional racing driver Tom Wood at the Radical SR1 Cup at Donington Park

From Wales to Derby

Hannah recounts initial nerves of moving from her home town in North Wales to Derby. “It was a scary move with me not coming from a big city. But Derby feels like a small city and very friendly. It feels like home.” 

I asked what appeals most to her? “It’s quite a nice city, you’ve got a lot of things here to do, like you’re so close to Alton Towers, cinema and bowling. It’s also so close to M6 – if I want to go home it’s easy, if I want a day out it’s easy. I’ve never been used to that living at home because it’s so far away from everything! I’ve also met such nice people, it just feels friendly. I found the transition a lot easier than I thought I would.”

Radical SR1 Cup

A turning point for Hannah so far has been getting involved with extra curricular activities. Team Derby Motorsport, a voluntary group that BEng (Hons) Motorsport Engineering students can join, took part in the Radical SR1 Cup in 2022. Hannah joined the team, initially as a Number 2 Technician before being asked to step up as a Number 1. 
“I started off as Number 2 Technician, so that was taking fuel out of the car, refuelling, setting up for patch, setting up for string bars for stringing the car and helping anything the Number 1 needs – taking wheels off and on, helping with brake leads, and then that season upped my skills and I was given the opportunity to be a Number 1 for the last round in Donington. That was a big thing for me, I was very nervous because I was fully responsible for the car! We had a few little issues I had to solve mechanically. I did a brake disc and pad change. I was giving out jobs to Number 2s and teaching them what I did so they could learn what I did throughout the whole season. I learnt so much mechanically and theory throughout the whole season and that’s definitely helped me with my work this year.” 
The Team went on to win eight podium trophies over 14 races, two of which were for outright wins, and they were presented with the Radical Technical Award at Radical’s Night of Champions award ceremony. “Getting podium finishes was overwhelming. It was a bit surreal to think you’ve worked on a car that’s finished on the podium,” Hannah says. On being presented the Radical Technical Award she says, “It was really nice to know that other people had noticed our hard work.” 

Team Derby Motorsport students Jack Hartwell, Devon Kirkland and Hannah Thomas with their Radical Technical Award
Team Derby Motorsport students Jack Hartwell, Devon Kirkland and Hannah Thomas with the Radical Technical Award 2022

Getting involved in the competition benefitted her in other ways too. “A big worry for me was making friends who like the same things as me,” says Hannah. “But I’ve made a group of friends who are into what I’m into and the Radical was a massive help with that.” 

The course 

“I really like the course. I really enjoyed first year with the practical, it was a nice introduction. I enjoy the theory of it too, why you do certain things, what affects each other. It helps that our teachers and lecturers are really passionate about what we teach, it really comes across and you definitely learn more that way.” 
She’s been doing so well on the course that Technical Instructor Andy Menzies invited her to some race weekends with Excelr8, a professional racing team, to gain some industry experience. “I did a few rounds with Excelr8 with Mini Coopers as a Tyre Engineer. It was a different experience being with a professional team and I gained a lot of knowledge that has helped with my modules this year.” 
Besides the knowledge she has gained, Hannah has noticed a huge change in herself. “My confidence has grown massively, and that’s a lot to do with being given opportunities and being pushed out of my comfort zone.” 

Hannah working on Team Derby Motorsport's Radical SR1 at Donington Park
Hannah working on Team Derby Motorsport's Radical SR1 at Donington Park

Future focused

“When I came here I didn’t really have any goal for the future because it was a last minute course change. But the course has given me a lot of insight into what I potentially want to do in the future” says Hannah. “At the moment I’m interested in becoming a race engineer, and the radical has helped massively with that as I get to see what the other students were doing and what a massive part of the team that is.” 

And what advice does Hannah have for anyone considering studying Motorsport at Derby?  

“Definitely come!” she says. “There’s a lot of opportunities and the structure of the course is really good, there’s different modules for different aspects. And you also learn a lot of Matlab and Computer Aided Design as well which I’d never even thought about before. Also the lecturers and technical staff are so passionate about what they do, it really does help to learn. They’re always there if you need help.” 

Kedleston Road, Derby Campus entrance

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