"One reason I love racing so much is I can practice my engineering talent in a way that pays back immediately in my sport, as well as the exhilaration of racing," says Andre Marziali.
For Andre Marziali, the gig is up.
Up Knox Mountain in Kelowna in less than two minutes in fact, hitting corners at 200 km/h before braking hard and accelerating again in the Knox Mountain Hillclimb, the longest-running annual paved uphill race in North America.
“It’s a lovely sport, a lovely community,” the driver, University of B.C. director of engineering physics, and entrepreneur said.
Born in the Lombardy town of Bergamo, in the heart of Italy’s battle with COVID-19, Marziali and his family moved to North Vancouver when he was 10.
Since buying his first car at age 16 he’d always tinkered with the engines, but never saw himself one day setting speed records on hill climbs or bombing around Formula One tracks in Italy and France in a friend’s $400,000 Ferrari 488 Challenge.
After getting his Bachelor of Science in engineering physics from UBC in 1989, Marziali headed to Stanford University for his PhD in physics before returning to the Point Grey campus to teach.
It was in 2005, after meeting students in the UBC Sport Car Club, that Marziali learned you could get into racing without the sponsorship of a major tobacco firm.
The Sport Car Club students showed him how he could fix up the BMW M3 he’d just purchased and make it race ready for $50.
“One reason I love racing so much is I can practice my engineering talent in a way that pays back immediately in my sport, as well as the exhilaration of racing,” Marziali said. ” … it’s a psychologically demanding sport so it’s a mental challenge to get to the level at which you can win.”
For anyone who hasn’t been in a race car, that involves trusting your tires, finding that microscopically fine line between cutting a corner at the fastest speed possible and flying off track, and knowing what minor adjustment needs to be done to gain another couple of tenths of a second.
“For me, it’s using my brain to engineer and on the other side, doing the physical part.”
Marziali’s brain has also been employed developing novel instruments for genomics and automation for tissue microarray analysis, single molecule analysis methods using nanopores, electrophoresis technologies … the list goes on.
“Right now, my company is setting up methods of isolating DNA that may be related to cancer for early detection,” he said.
Marziali has posted a lecture on the physics of car racing and hopes to soon make it a full course for credit.
Marziali is rebuilding the front end of his BMW M3, which he crashed late last year. And he’s crossing his fingers the 2020 race at Knox Mountain, scheduled for May, will go ahead. It’d be a shame to do all that bodywork and then have to wait another year to test the car.
Not to mention breaking the GTO (a ‘door-slammer,’ the fastest class of production cars) record. In 2019, after a back-and-forth duel with Kelowna’s Wouter Bouman and his Mazda RX7, Marziali finished 1.101 seconds back in second place (the winning time was 1:47.214).
Marziali would like to hold that GTO record at Knox, just as he holds the record he set in 2014 in a lower production class at the uphill race.
“It can be terrifying,” Martziali said of the uphill race and not being able to see what’s over the next rise or around the next corner.
“But terrifying in a good way.”
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