Logo: University of Southern California

Beginning at the Finish Line

USC Viterbi student, interning at the highest level of motorsports, gets one day back on campus to talk about experience
By: Matthew Kredell
May 07, 2015 —
Jason Zide (center) - Photo courtesy of Infiniti Racing

Jason Zide returned to USC and brought with him a professional race car. The USC Viterbi School of Engineering student is deferring his senior year in order to finish a 12-month internship with the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Formula One team.

Getting a break from 10-hour days working on the world's fastest cars at Infiniti Red Bull headquarters in England, Zide came back to Southern California to serve as an ambassador for Infiniti's Performance Engineering Academy.

As part of its college tour to attract applicants for a second run of internships, Infiniti planted a Formula One car on the Engineering Quad for the afternoon of April 30. Next to the Infiniti Red Bull show car sat Zide's other pride and joy, a still unpainted USC Racing vehicle named Stacy. They didn't appear that different, take away the larger tires, full detailing and about 100 miles per hour.

“It was exciting for me to see the USC Racing car next to the Infiniti Red Bull F1,” said Zide, who had his luggage with him to fly back to England that night. “These are the two projects on which I've been working so heavily. Stacy isn't quite finished yet, but she looked like she belonged.”

Zide dreamed of someday reaching the pinnacle of motorsports as an engineer for a Formula One team, but he saw it as the end game of his career long after completing his mechanical engineering degree and getting experience at lower levels of racing.

Then he applied along with 1,500 other engineering students around the world for the inaugural Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy, aced a Skype interview and regional competition before winning one of three spots in a three-day shootout event of intensive interviews, practical tests and technical challenges. This year Infiniti is taking five students, but only one from the U.S.

Suddenly he was off to England last September for a full-time paid position with Infiniti Red Bull Racing's transmission design team that came with complimentary living quarters and use of an Infiniti Q50 company car.

He previously had summer internships with Infiniti's North American Technical Center and Tesla Motors, but those were nothing like the hands-on experience he's had with the F1 team. In his first eight months on the job, he has designed 80 parts on the Infiniti Red Bull car that is competing in the 2015 Formula One season and a total of 300 parts between the test rigs and dynos.

“I didn't expect to be able to contribute this much, honestly,” Zide said. “They really expect a lot from their interns. It was a very steep learning curve initially to get up to pace of an F1, but it's exciting and I've learned a tremendous amount in terms of design philosophy, manufacturing techniques and research and development on some technologies to which I probably wouldn't otherwise have been exposed.”

The rain and colder temperatures in the United Kingdom took some getting used to for the Laguna Beach-native, as did driving on left side of the road. But he got over it quickly to explore England with a trip to Stonehenge.

Zide's passion for motorsports started at a young age from working on cars with his father, Shelly, a recently retired radiologist who made a hobby out of restoring and racing vintage cars, particularly Alfa Romeos. He began creating and racing his own go-karts at 8 years old, realizing his talents were more in the design than behind the wheel.

He signed up for USC Racing as a freshman. The team builds a new race car from scratch each school year, entering it in Formula SAE competitions against other colleges. Even from abroad, Zide has served as project manager for Stacy by putting in 3-4 hours a day after work reviewing the team's progress.

“We were pretty stoked as a team to have one of our members get to work on a Formula One car,” said Yann Staelens, a lecturer at USC Viterbi who serves as faculty advisor to USC Racing. “It's great to have him come back for a day, but we're really excited about him returning in the fall. He's seeing how professional teams do it, and we'll try to apply some of that knowledge here at USC.”