On track for success

Students from the Leicester Department of Engineering are to join teams from top University Engineering departments throughout 20 countries to realise a Grand Prix dream.
On track for success
Pictured above from left to right: Caspian Burrell, Richard Dix and Harvey Hayman.

Imagine building a racing car and racing it at Silverstone the week after the Grand Prix! What is an unobtainable dream for most of us could be a reality for Engineering students at the University of Leicester.

Formula Student, run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with industrial partners, attracts competitors from as far afield as the UK, Europe, Americas, Asia and Australasia. Established in 1998, the organisation has been based at Silverstone since 2007.

Participating student teams have to design a small, single-seater racing car, then build, develop and market it, and finally race the car at Silverstone, competing as a team.

The two-year project provides students with real experience in design, manufacture and business skills, as well as marketing, time and project management, team building, budgeting and presentation.

It also puts students in contact with companies involved with Formula Student, offering both sides a chance to develop professional relationships that may lead to future opportunities.

Cars must have high performance but low cost; they should be easy to maintain, reliable and marketable.

The Leicester Department of Engineering is considering entering the eco category, with the production of an electric car.

“This goes well with design ideas within the Department,” said Professor John Fothergill, Head of Engineering at Leicester. “It focuses naturally on what our fourth-year projects are about.”

Professor Fothergill was persuaded to give the go-ahead for the project (known at Leicester as Formula Students) by the students themselves, through their unofficial spokesman Caspian Burrell. “They were so enthusiastic about taking part that I put the idea to the staff, who were equally keen,” Professor Fothergill said.

The project has already provided some excitement. To the envy of his fellow students, Caspian Burrell was invited to meet the racing champion Lewis Hamilton at a question and answer event organised by the Santander Universities network. The opportunity arose as part of Santander Universities’ three year partnership with the University of Leicester which includes a package of scholarships and travel awards for postgraduate students and academic staff and vital funding for our programme of Summer Schools.

“I found it very useful as I am currently at a crucial age in terms of my career path, and hopefully it will help me to achieve more and be the best at what I choose to do,” said Caspian.

The whole Leicester Formula Students team was able to go to Silverstone last year to experience the racing world at first-hand and to produce a report on their findings. One of the students, Ashley Langford, commented: “It’s a really exciting event. You can feel a real buzz as you walk around the garages. For example the results from the design marking caused a group of competitors to run and cheer in excitement at seeing their scores.”

The students involved will spend two years setting up all the systems theyneed, including raising funding, to building the car in their fourth year. By that time there will be several groups working on different sections of the car. In fact, Formula Student sits very well with other motor-related projects already operating with great success in the Leicester Department of Engineering.

Conceive Design Implement Operate (CDIO), accredited by The RoyalAcademy of Engineering, provides a framework for teaching second-year students engineering design, under the management of fourth-years. In 2010 they had to design a small vehicle to run independently round a track carrying as big a load as its batteries could sustain. This year’s project is a dirigible (air balloon) that will hold itself in one place.

CDIO involves a large team, including a Leicester academic, six people from industry, visiting design professors, experimental officers, graduates, PhD students and technical staff.

A fourth-year group project is to build a system to test braking for the Ludlow based car company, Riversimple, which has strong connections with Leicester City Council. The project aim is to produce a car that does 300 mpg, and the results will be publicly available through open source technology.

The Leicester Engineering Department also has long-standing and flourishing links with Jaguar and Land Rover, and builds all the control systems for Rolls Royce through a spin-off company, TTE Systems.

With all this existing expertise at their fingertips, the Formula Students team should get off to a flying start, but teams are not expected to win at Silverstone right away. All teams are assessed differently during their first two years, because they are developing something from scratch, whereas after two years they will be improving on a car already in existence.

In student terms this is a long-term project. But sometime in the future, when you hear about the University of Leicester Formula 1 car winning the Grand Prix, remember, you heard it here first!

If you would like to help Leicester’s Engineering students succeed in their quest and can offer technical advice, automotive components, or financial support, please contact Ave Vinick in the Development Office on 0116 252 2176 or arv4@le.ac.uk. Your name or company logo could be on a car racing around Silverstone soon!

This article originally appeared in LE1 Autumn 2011.

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