One university's challenge

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Swansea students are gaining invaluable experience by running a team in Formula 4

No doubt many of you will have heard about Formula Student, the competition that pits university teams from around the globe against each other. Every year the teams design, build and then race their cars at Silverstone, providing a perfect learning ground for future motor sport engineers.

So many students are now involved in the scheme, however, that most professional race teams see it as a ‘given’ on a potential employee’s CV. Not only that, there are many more students than there are places on each team. So what else can engineering students do to earn valuable experience? Well, Harley Gasson from Swansea Metropolitan University is chief engineer for a team in Formula 4, the low-cost 750 Motor Club single-seater series. The team has been set people have used it for suspension and data acquisition projects. Then Ixell, a division of Renault, called us and asked whether we wanted to go racing with it. They said ‘we can sponsor you ‘x’ amount’ and then the university agreed to give us some money as well.

“The team came together in August last year and as always with these things we started with lots of people. About 70 got involved initially, but some lost interest and we’re now down to a good 15 or 20 people. The core are studying motor sport engineering, but others are doing the motor sport management degree and they look after the logistics, accommodation, budget and finance side of things.” Running a proper race team is a big step up from Formula Student, even at the grass roots level of the 750MC, and it was amazing to hear how much work the team has done on the car. “We put the car in CAD (Computer Aided Design) and then did all the aero work in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics),” says Gasson. “We then took the car to MIRA and used their wind tunnel, the cost of which was covered by the university.

“The team came together in August last year and as always with these things we started with lots of people. About 70 got involved initially, but some lost interest and we’re now down to a good 15 or 20 people. The core are studying motor sport engineering, but others are doing the motor sport management degree and they look after the logistics, accommodation, budget and finance side of things.”

Running a proper race team is a big step up from Formula Student, even at the grass roots level of the 750MC, and it was amazing to hear how much work the team has done on the car.

“We put the car in CAD (Computer Aided Design) and then did all the aero work in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics),” says Gasson. “We then took the car to MIRA and used their wind tunnel, the cost of which was covered by the university.

“We try and integrate as much of our coursework as we can so it’s not too time-consuming. If we have an engine assignment we use the car’s engine, so we can write and work on it at the same time. That’s even more the case when it comes to aerodynamics – they’re a big part of our work on the car and for the university.

“It’s a good championship for that because you can change the aero and suspension as much as you want. The regulations are really open. With the engine you can change the ECU and the injection, but you can’t change the cylinder head and you can’t bore them out. Next year I’m using the car’s engine for my final year engineering project where I’ll simulate all sorts of stuff including inlet lengths.”

The results have been steady and before the Silverstone round on August 27/28 the team was lying eighth out of 26 in the championship.

The driver is Swansea Metropolitan lecturer Timothy Tudor, who has some hillclimb experience but has never previously raced on circuits. It did cross my mind that organising and advising a race team from the university you teach at is a clever way to get a lot of experience at very little cost… And, of course, a beautifully prepared car.

So what’s the downside? “It’s purely money,” says Gasson. “Universities are so underfunded nowadays that they just can’t afford to do projects like this. But Renault has provided some much-appreciated support and our travel to all the rounds is paid for because we can use the university hire cars, but we still need to pay for some of the accommodation, food and various other things. With government cuts, though, it is hard to justify spending money on motor sport.

“Having said that, the experience we’re getting is so valuable. The degree itself is a perfect entry into motor sport, because it’s a motor sport engineering degree at a university that’s well known for it. To have the Formula 4 project on your CV, the fact that you’ve worked as an actual team, you went to proper tracks around the UK, worked with a real car and did all the development and set-up yourself… Well, it’s priceless, to be honest.”

It is, even if universities can’t afford to throw money at projects like these. I know how much a season of racing costs having researched the big single-seater championships for our ‘Motor Racing Money Tree’, but surely students doing degrees such as motor sport management should jump at the chance to organise the necessary sponsorship? It would look brilliant on their CVs. This is exactly the sort of project that we should encourage to provide our next generation of motor sport engineers.

Yes, there is Formula Student, but running a car for a season of racing is another step up. And with some good results, it could be the perfect apprenticeship to a career within the Money Tree’s branches.

Ed Foster