Mathematics and motorcycles are two passions that Elena has cultivated in a parallel way. The former was her career aspiration since she was a child, the latter she believed it so unattainable that she never even imagined that she could one day play a key role within a MotoGP™ team.
Elena De Cia is in charge of strategies for Aprilia Racing. During the Grand Prix she is in the box together with all the data recorded by the RS-GP 21 of the two Aprilia Racing Team Gresini riders: Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori. In her, three aspects coexist: theory, practice and passion. “I see every manoeuvre that the rider makes on the bike through the numbers and the theoretical aspects that we propose to him must be correlated with his feedback but not everything it requires can be done or is performing, therefore, at this point practice comes into play. The goal is to get the maximum result between the constraints we have, our analyzes and what the rider wants. On race weekends, the pace is frenetic and, together with the working group, we must be able to propose the best solution in the shortest possible time. The watchwords are precision and effectiveness. There is also a strong component of passion in what I do and maybe I could be the first to try the changes on the bike.”
Elena's story begins in Feltre, in the province of Belluno, where since elementary school she dreams of becoming a math teacher and on weekends she watches the Grand Prix with her uncle: “I never imagined working in MotoGP. If I think back to when I watched the races I remember technicians, riders and other protagonists I saw on TV and who today are people with whom I relate on a daily basis. The fan in me would scream with joy and find it hard to believe what I am experiencing, however, I always try to maintain a professional profile and when I meet well-known faces in the paddock I limit myself to smiling 'hello'.”
In fact, she confesses that she saw MotoGP™ unattainable, as something that she could only observe from a distance. But it was mathematics, her other great passion, that led her to this fascinating world. “I was studying at the University of Padua when I learned that managers from Aprilia had come to the faculty to look for applied mathematicians. That was the course of study that I had chosen and in front of this possibility I slid there”. When we think of the motorcycle world we are led to think that there are engineers in the garage, instead, Elena explains to us that Aprilia's move was at the forefront because they focused on the synergy between mathematics and engineering to develop their own projects.
Her degree thesis on motorcycle trajectories then allowed her to win a place in the racing department of the Noale house by focusing more and more on dynamic simulation, development optimisations and strategies. Elena soon became a point of reference, not only in the company but also on the track, in the paddock: “With the introduction of the unique Magneti Marelli software, I changed scope by moving on to strategies and analysis. So I started attending the Grands Prix, discovering, once again, a new and different way of doing my job. Being in the department that represents the arrival point of all data and information, I have the opportunity to relate to motorists, electronic, dynamic and vehicle drivers, being able to learn more about every aspect of the bike.”
Adrenaline is an ever-present component in competitions and working in the garage there are more noises, more distractions and more pressure. But entering the paddock was not just a change from a professional point of view: “At first I was so focused on the technical aspects that I had no other worries. After facing some Grands Prix, I immediately felt part of a big family and I feel at home wherever I am in the world. After all, it is always the same people who travel and even if I am in Malaysia, Argentina, Australia or Japan, I feel in a safe environment because if I needed support I would always find someone to count on.”
Attending all the Grands Prix, life is punctuated by the bookings of planes and trains that take the paddock staff to the circuits around the world: “When travelling, the pace is demanding. But adrenaline keeps us super focused on what we do.” And if sometimes this lifestyle can be tiring, Elena has an ace up her sleeve to renew her energy: “Being a fan gives me that extra boost because I never imagined I was here.”
In her professional career, there was also a passage for a few years to Team Suzuki Ecstar, where she found herself facing a new challenge: “The Japanese are very respectful and it is important to earn their trust, it is a difficult path that gives great satisfaction... I often found myself in Japan and was the only woman present at the meetings. But I have never felt discriminated against because when you start talking about technical aspects, cultural and gender barriers disappear.”
Each experience generates a change, and having worked for a Japanese builder allowed Elena to further enrich herself both professionally and personally before returning to take her place with the Noale family.
“I returned to Aprilia because my dream was to create a small department of strategies and methods to analyze the data, to build something real, concrete where the various departments can contact to obtain data and detailed information on the various aspects. And it has been achieved.”
However, from her time with Suzuki, there is a moment she wishes to recreate in Italy. "Each manufacturer has their excellence and the strategy must enhance this aspect. My current aspiration now is to win. It's a feeling I experienced when I was with Suzuki and I really liked it so much, that's why I'd like to relive it with Aprilia.”
Integral to the strategy to bring the RS-GP to the top step of the podium, Elena describes her routine when it comes to the race weekend. "Before leaving for a Grand Prix, I analyze the data and check the notes I took the previous year to remember what we have tried and what we need to check. I prepare an information document for the two track engineers who will work with the riders and inform them about the news. Wednesday and Thursday are days dedicated to fine-tuning the final details.”
Once the box has been assembled and the strategy defined, she starts with the first free practice session: “During the session, I check the data as soon as the driver returns to the box. In my role, the most important thing, at that moment, is to support the track engineers to give them immediate feedback and then between one shift and the next we think about how to optimize the data and information.”
In a dynamic environment like that of MotoGP™, Elena underlines how important it is to be reactive, fast and adaptable to ever-changing situations: “The most important sessions are FP4 and warm up. In the first one because we do some tests with a view to the race, in the other because we fine-tune the last details and we always hope not to have to change too many details.”
Then, it is showtime, as the most eagerly anticipated moment of the weekend arrives – the race. “It is the instant in which I can experience a passionate moment and knowing all the work that went into it makes it even more exciting. After the first lap, I go to the side of the track and watch the fastest riders in the world compete.”
Elena has a privileged point of view on the Grand Prix. Having once watched them from the sofa at home, she now experiences it first-hand, while playing a key role in it. In competitions, as in life, the secret is to be generous with yourself.
“Say 'no' there will be many, so it is important to be the first to tear down the walls that we often build for ourselves out of fear. When I was a university student and I learned that Aprilia was looking for students from my course, I thought that many of the other candidates would have the edge over me, but I tried anyway and guess what? They chose me.”
Elena takes particular pride in showing that mathematics, a subject often snubbed by students, can be the key to reaching professional goals one wouldn’t have thought possible. Mind you, she can also leave the data behind to get on her bike which helps set her winning mentality: never hold back!
Proud to show that with mathematics, it is possible to reach work contexts that we never would have imagined, when she can, Elena leaves the data to get on her bike by setting her winning strategy: never save yourself.