Engineering degree kick starts a career in motorsport
Adelaide engineering graduate Drew Ward has taken responsibility for some of the biggest sporting events in Australia. David Ellis reports.
Drew was Group Manager of Project Planning and Special Tasks at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, General Manager of Operations for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, and is currently the Chief Executive of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, overseeing the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix (MotoGP).
Drew spoke with Lumen about his career.
Lumen: What are your recollections of University -- both the study environment and the social environment?
Drew Ward: I studied for a Bachelor of Engineering from 1984-1988. I have fond recollections of first year -- a great deal of social activity and very little serious application of effort to study. This resulted in a blunt wake up call when first term exam results came out. I'm pleased to say that the remainder of my time at university saw an improved balance between study and social activities.
Lumen: How do you think your education has helped you during your career?
DW: In my case tertiary education was important in getting started in my career but the further I stray from a traditional career path the less relevant becomes the technical information learned during the course. The real value comes from developing styles and approaches to thinking and problem solving. I now use very little of the technical information I learned through my university studies but the problem-solving methodologies and the analytical thinking developed through this period has shaped the way I operate now.
While I don't regularly use much of my technical knowledge, it's been very useful when assessing expert technical advice. With the benefit of my engineering background, I've generally taken the view that almost anything can be achieved with the right amount of effort, creative thinking and resource.
Lumen: How did you move from being an engineer into running events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Formula 1 and MotoGP?
DW: Early in my career I realised that I was never going to be a design engineer. Following university I was fortunate to be employed by a large multidisciplinary engineering and project management firm which gave me opportunities in construction management and project management early in my career. One of the projects I was involved with was the staging of the Grand Prix in Adelaide. This was my first exposure to major events, and other roles with Formula 1, MotoGP, the Sydney 2000 Games and the Commonwealth Games developed from that point.
Lumen: What are some of the logistical challenges of mounting an event like Formula 1?
DW: Any Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit is complex but transforming an inner-city park into a Grand Prix circuit within a very short period of time is not only complex but is filled with logistical challenges.
In addition to the track and safety infrastructure, the circuit includes sophisticated media facilities, television broadcast operations, elaborate corporate hospitality and sponsor showcasing facilities, three helipads, 21 superscreens, eight overpasses, a music festival, a rock concert venue and a go-kart track. All of the necessary infrastructure and facilities are temporary with the exception of the track surface and the shell of the pit building.
Six 747 air freighters bring the Formula 1 teams' cars and equipment from Europe. An additional 747 freighter carries the digital broadcast operation. About 3000 round trips are required by a fleet of semi-trailers to transport the circuit infrastructure from our storage yard at Altona to Albert Park. Over 1500 workers are involved in the construction and dismantling of the circuit and over 10,000 people are involved in the operation of the circuit during Grand Prix week.
Lumen: How does that compare with the MotoGP event?
DW: The logistical challenges of staging the MotoGP event at Phillip Island are somewhat similar to Formula 1.
An advantage for the MotoGP event is that it's staged at a permanent circuit, which means less temporary infrastructure. However, for an event of the size of MotoGP we still need to build from scratch all of the grandstands, much of the teams' facilities, broadcast facilities and most of the hospitality facilities each year.
Both a feature of the circuit and an added challenge is the remote nature of the Phillip Island circuit. The track is located in a spectacular cliff-top setting overlooking Bass Strait about two hours' drive from Melbourne.
The location of the circuit adds to the iconic status of the event and enhances the appeal of this destination for event goers, but certainly makes transport logistics more challenging.
Lumen: What are the main aspects of your job that make you feel good about going to work every day?
DW: First and foremost it's the people. I'm very fortunate to be working with passionate, energetic and hardworking people who are committed to staging the best events possible. The group of external stakeholders is equally enthusiastic about the entertainment that we collectively promote. It's a great pleasure to be part of such a dynamic industry and to be staging such significant international events.
Another key aspect of the role is the creative outlet it provides and the marketing challenge. We're constantly developing and evolving our entertainment line-up in response to market feedback and anticipated demand. It's particularly satisfying to see the response at the box office and to see crowds filling the venues on event days.