Ashmore, Shepherd breaking down barriers with Ganassi

Chip Ganassi Racing will make history this weekend when Angela Ashmore and Danielle Shepherd contest their first NTT IndyCar Series events as race engineers. They follow the pioneering IndyCar race engineer Diane Holl, who won in the late 1990s with Adrian Fernandez, and Arrow McLaren’s Leena Gade, also from England, who spent part of the 2018 season engineering the car driven by James Hinchcliffe.

For Ganassi, whose team has been at the forefront of bringing women racers into the paddock and developing talent through its Women In Motorsports intern program, Ashmore and Shepherd are part of an ongoing effort to develop talent within the organization.

“When it comes to Angela and Danielle being lead engineers on the cars this year, they’ve obviously been in our system for years,” Ganassi told RACER. “While they’ve been in our system, they haven’t had an opportunity to put their own signature on their work. I think this will obviously be that opportunity for them.


“Having said that, when people take over a position, you get a different perspective and a fresh set of eyes in the conversations within their peer group. They’re going to bring to bring a fresh set of eyes in terms of the ways that we do things.”

The promotions come after years of distinguished work by Ashmore (main image), who graduates from the assistant engineer role on the Indianapolis 500-winning No. 8 Honda entry for Marcus Ericsson to lead the No. 11 Honda for Marcus Armstrong.

While Ashmore is moving from one Ganassi IndyCar to another, Shepherd has been called back to IndyCar where she’ll be in charge of engineering the No. 4 Honda driven by rookie Kyffin Simpson. Shepherd returns from the team’s factory prototype program in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship where she was the lead engineer on the hybrid No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R.

Prior to her IMSA role which delivered multiple victories — including an overall win at the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring — Shepherd was part of Ganassi’s championship-winning team in 2018 with Scott Dixon, when she served as performance engineer.

That IndyCar title, which also included former Ganassi assistant engineer Kate Gundlach, was a first for women working in an engineering capacity, and four years later, Ashmore would add to that legacy by becoming the first female engineer to win the Indy 500.

For good measure, Shepherd was also part of Alex Palou’s championship-winning engineering team at Ganassi in 2021 and based on her skills, was elevated to full race engineer status over the next two years in IMSA.

“I started racing in IndyCar and spent a few years there and then had the opportunity to be able to move over to the IMSA and I didn’t actually know a whole lot about sports car racing before going over there, so it was it was an interesting experience,” Shepherd told RACER.

“It was really good to be able to see a different side of racing and I learned a lot, but engineering a race car is engineering a race car. And then to be able to have the opportunity to come back and do race engineering on the IndyCar side really is a full-circle thing.”

Together, Ashmore and Shepherd become the third and fourth women to hold the highest engineering position in an IndyCar team and do so at the same time, and while working for the same team, which is another first within the series.

Shepherd was part of Alex Palou’s 2021 IndyCar title-winning team, and returns to IndyCar this year after two seasons on Ganassi’s factory Cadillac program in IMSA.  Richard Prince/Cadillac Photo

“This is really cool. We’re breaking some barriers and moving the sport forward and it’s a good step for diversity,” Ashmore told RACER. “But the other half of me is also just getting straight to business. Let’s go out and qualify well, let’s go win some race and vie for a championship. So I’m really excited about this chance, but I’m trying not to let it be a distraction and I want to just keep my nose to the grindstone. I want my work to speak for itself.”

For Shepherd, who graduated from her home state College of Wooster with degrees in mathematics and physics, her journey through Ganassi’s engineering ranks includes stops at almost every step in the profession’s hierarchy. In most instances, assistant, simulation, and performance engineers often have to leave their current team to make upwards career progress at another team, but that hasn’t been the case for Shepherd or Ashmore.

“I’ve had the whole the whole ladder here,” Shepherd said with a laugh. “When I started, I was an assistant engineer for the first year, and then I had the opportunity to move over to the simulation side, did that for four seasons, and then had the opportunity to move to race engineer on the Cadillac side, did that for one year in DPi, one year on the GTP, and then moved over here to IndyCar.

“Ganassi obviously has quite a bit of opportunity for growth and it’s just worked out that there’s been an opportunity for me to move within the team and stay here and be able to do all different types of engineering.”

Ashmore’s been able to learn all aspects of the job from Brad Goldberg, the veteran race engineer on the No. 8 program, and it goes beyond the technical aspects of tuning a Dallara DW12 IndyCar chassis. Race engineers are the sport’s equivalent of a head coach who calls the plays, is responsible for the players, and who sets the direction the team follows on a daily basis.

For Shepherd on the No. 4 with Simpson, and Ashmore with the No. 11 entry for Armstrong, the roles are just as much about managing time and people as determining the best tire pressures and suspension settings. Shepherd got to gain that knowledge in IMSA and in recent months, Ashmore was entrusted with handling the race engineering for Ganassi at hybrid engine tests to jump-start the process.

“Brad has definitely been a great mentor to me and as questions pop up, I can still rely on him for advice,” said Ashmore, who earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. “There’s still things that I’m going to have to learn along the way, and there’s definitely a lot of responsibilities and a lot of people looking to you to have the answers and so the mindset is different.

“The stress level is obviously a little higher and just the amount of responsibility, it’s more than what I’ve had in the past, but I feel like I’ve been well prepared for it. I’m at the best organization in the paddock and we’ve got some of the best drivers, so I feel like between that and being eased into a race engineering role with the hybrid program, it’s been like dipping a toe in the water instead of having to jump in headfirst.”

Shepherd’s former title-winning teammate Gundlach, who moved to the Arrow McLaren team years ago and works as performance engineer on the No. 5 Chevy driven by Pato O’Ward, is likely the next to join the IndyCar race engineering family, and it’s no longer a rarity to find women working as mechanics, over-the-wall pit crew members, or in one of the technical and engineering disciplines in the series.

“It’s great that it’s happening for me and Angela together, and for everybody else who’s out there who’s interested in being a race engineer, interested in racing, they can see that there isn’t a barrier based on gender,” Shepherd said. “We’ve had we have more women working here now at Ganassi than we’ve ever had since I’ve started here, and I think that’s true across pit lane, even on the IMSA side.

“We have female engineers and way more of a female presence on the timing stand, so I think that’s it’s wonderful that women are getting in and getting excited about the sport and can hopefully continue getting everybody else excited about it. It would be nice to get to be a place where you don’t really notice it and we’re not really talking about it anymore because it is just commonplace.”

Story originally appeared on Racer