November 10, 2023
She’s on it: Josefine Eskildsen is rapidly rising up the racing ranks
The new graduate of Purdue’s motorsports engineering program in Indianapolis is already winning big with Bryan Herta Autosport
INDIANAPOLIS – Josefine Eskildsen’s racing career is accelerating as rapidly as the 350-horsepower touring cars she works on.
A whirlwind 2023 is wrapping up for the 22-year-old wunderkind, who just completed her second season with Bryan Herta Autosport. Already a full-time systems engineer for drivers Mark Wilkins and Mason Filippi, Eskildsen was a key member of a team that won a series-best three races this season in the International Motorsports Association’s (IMSA) Michelin Pilot Challenge.
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- Eyes on the checkered flag
Her fuel-strategy decision led to a trip to victory lane at Laguna Seca Raceway last May, and Eskildsen earned another prestigious honor that same weekend: her college degree. The latest success story from the motorsports engineering program in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology in Indianapolis — part of the new Purdue University in Indianapolis — Eskildsen went from holding an IMSA trophy in California to being handed a diploma in Indianapolis in the span of 24 hours.
“That whole weekend was unreal,” Eskildsen remembers. “It was an all-green (flag) race, so we had to put it all together to win — get the fuel exactly right, get the tires done perfectly and have a flawless driver change.
“After celebrating with the team, I zoomed off to the airport, hopped on a plane to Indy and graduated the next morning.”
An unlikely path to the track
Contrary to many of her counterparts in the paddock, collecting trophies and standing atop podiums was not a childhood dream for Eskildsen. While she enjoyed working with her hands as a youngster, competed in robotics at Penn High School in Mishawaka and knew she wanted to pursue engineering in college, motorsports was not on her radar. That passion wasn’t ignited until later in life, the flames coming from an unlikely origin — her grandmother.
“My grandma has always been super into racing,” Eskildsen said. “But it wasn’t until we watched together when I was much older that I first noticed how cool it was.”
Initially, that interest didn’t extend beyond Grandma’s couch. Pursuing motorsports as a career didn’t become a consideration until one of her robotics teammates and classmates turned her on to the motorsports engineering program at IUPUI.
“I knew I wanted to do engineering,” Eskildsen said. “But once I discovered and learned more about the motorsports engineering program in Indianapolis, I said to myself, ‘Yeah, this is definitely what I want to go into.’”
When she arrived on campus, Eskildsen immediately slammed her foot on the pedal, joining the school’s motorsports club, where she later became president, and absorbing as much as possible from program director Chris Finch. Besides serving as the lead instructor in the program for Purdue University in Indianapolis, Finch also brings decades of racing experience as an engineer in both IMSA and the IndyCar Series to the table.
Eskildsen dove into Finch’s data courses, building a chassis loom — the essential part of a race car’s electrical system — as a class project, an assignment that allowed Eskildsen to gain essential wiring experience that she still utilizes today. In another course, she and her fellow motorsports engineering classmates were tasked with creating their own Excel fuel calculator, which helps determine on-track speed and pit stop strategy. Eskildsen’s familiarity and baseline skills in these disciplines, learned in the Purdue program, would quickly pay dividends early in her racing career.
Getting her start
At the end of the 2021 season and through a recommendation from Finch, Bryan Herta Autosport invited Eskildsen, a prospective intern, to Road Atlanta for the IMSA finale. Although she never completed a formal interview, the race in Georgia served as a successful trial run, and she’s been with the team ever since.
This season served as Eskildsen’s first as a full-time member, and there were several times that she and Finch, her mentor turned colleague, earned credit from their compatriots for race-winning fuel strategies. “It’s such a steep learning curve with a lot of stress and pressure because the fuel numbers from Josefine have to be right on the money,” said Wilkins, co-driver of the No. 98 Hyundai Elantra N TCR. “Her decisions were critical and put us in a position to win.”
Those real-time, in-race fuel calculations from Eskildsen are relayed to Wilkins and Filippi each lap. The drivers then know if they need to save fuel and how they can maximize their speed while limiting their stops, a delicate balance and critical key to success in all forms of motorsports. Thanks to those calls at Laguna, Wilkins and Filippi ultimately held off their Bryan Herta Autosport teammates, Robert Wickens and Harry Gottsacker, by just a few seconds in the two-hour race.
“My philosophy is you hire someone to do the job — not to constantly double-check their work,” Finch said. “It’s a matter of trust. I asked Josefine, ‘How much fuel do we need?’ and she told me 35 seconds, so we put in 35 seconds. The difference between us holding off our teammates to win the race was the difference of five seconds of fuel in pit lane.”
Capturing the checkered flag was extra special for team owner and president Bryan Herta, not only because it served as the team’s first of three victories in 2023, but because Laguna Seca is the site of his first IndyCar victory as a driver a quarter-century ago and the home track for Hyundai, the team’s engine manufacturing partner in IMSA.
Boilermakers and Bryan Herta Autosport
Eskildsen and Finch aren’t the only Purdue products in the Bryan Herta Autosport garage. Fellow rising alumna Megan Ryder (BS, motorsports engineering, ’22) is the lead systems engineer on the Wickens/Gottsacker No. 33 entry that won the 2023 season championship. Reed England and Gretchen Waning are both interns and current students in the motorsports engineering program who are set to be part of the first Purdue University in Indianapolis graduating class in 2025. Many other Boilermakers have worked on the team in past seasons as well.
“Purdue students within our team have consistently shown they are prepared to tackle difficult real-world challenges and contribute to the on-track success of our program,” Herta said. “Josefine’s ability to ‘see the race’ and identify opportunities we can exploit to the team’s advantage has proven to be decisive on a number of occasions, which is why she has been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility.”
As a team, Bryan Herta Autosport just wrapped up its fifth consecutive IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship earlier this month. Wickens and Gottsacker were the drivers on that title-winning entry, but Wilkins and Filippi’s three individual race wins with Eskildsen were a season high and helped secure a runner-up finish in the points standings and a fourth consecutive manufacturer’s title for Hyundai.
The quest for championships puts Eskildsen in lockstep with her employer, and she continues to strive not only for success with Bryan Herta Autosport but continued breakthroughs for female motorsports leaders in what is still a male-dominated field.
“That aspect is always there in the back of my mind, as sometimes it feels like people are saying, ‘Hey, why is this girl in a fire suit?,’” Eskildsen says. “But I like to show everyone — not just other girls — that the opportunity is here and women can succeed in this space.
“I love to do things that others say I can’t do. Whenever people are standing in my way, I can’t wait to prove them wrong.”
About Purdue University in Indianapolis
Purdue University in Indianapolis is a new, fully integrated extension of the West Lafayette flagship campus, expanding the academic rigor and accessible excellence that Purdue is known for to Indiana’s industrial and technological center. As the only public top 10 university, most trusted university and most innovative university in the state of Indiana, Purdue is focused and committed to strengthening its presence in the capital city. Purdue University in Indianapolis will reimagine a collaborative platform that connects students, faculty and local businesses to promote breakthrough discoveries and create a new and direct talent pipeline. Realignment of the existing IUPUI partnership is expected to be completed by the start of the fall semester in 2024. Learn more about Purdue’s latest giant leap at https://www.purdue.edu/campuses/indianapolis/.
Writer/Media contact: Derek Schultz, email@example.com
Sources: Josefine Eskildsen, Mark Wilkins, Chris Finch, Bryan Herta