These university students built a Formula One racecar, and then the unexpected happened
The inspiring story of a team of engineering majors who simply refuse to give up.
The team of college students, some 60 strong, went to Italy with everything they thought they needed to win. The skills. The experience. The smarts. The car.
And then everything went wrong. Just about everything. Which leaves the budding engineers from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology hoping that now they have everything they need. For next year.
“Our feeling is, we thought we could do a lot more. If we didn't have those problems, maybe we could do top 10 or top 15 overall,” the team’s project manager, Evgeny Guy, told From The Grapevine. “I think, with this team and this car, we could do a lot more.”
So, what did happen? First, a little background: The Technion, founded more than 100 years ago, is the oldest university in Israel. It's one of some 500 schools from six continents that competes in the Formula SAE racing series, sponsored by a global association of some 138,000 engineers. In Formula SAE, engineering students design, build and test the performance of race cars in real competition.
The Technion team has been around since 2013, when it won a newcomer’s award. The team entered this year’s four-day event in Parma, Italy in September with high hopes. There, the crew members competed in several events, ranging from business presentations to autocross and endurance.
From Day 1, the team – officially known as Formula Technion – faced obstacles. First it was a problem with the brake system which had to, in effect, be completely rebuilt. The young engineers breezed through a business presentation on the morning of the second day – third place among 43 teams – and scraped by their noise test. By noon of the second day, car and drivers had passed all their tests to be able to compete.
But then, a driver ran off the track in test driving, mangling a front wing of the car. When an alternate driver climbed in, the engine froze up completely. After a lot of time in the pits trying to determine what was wrong, the crew decided the whole engine had to be replaced. And things didn’t get much better from there.
The team spent the whole night, from 9 p.m. to 10 the next morning, in the parking lot of the Riccardo Paletti Circuit, swapping out engines.
“That was a big challenge,” said Guy, who has a master's degree in mechanical engineering. “At night, you don’t work as good as you do in the daytime.”
The car was back together in time, though, but the new engine had to go through all the noise tests and brake tests again. When they failed, they had to fix whatever was wrong until the engine met specifications. By noon, they were finally through, an hour before the two main racing competitions – the acceleration and the autocross events – were to begin.
And, of course, it began to rain.
The fuel pressure dropped in the engine during the acceleration event. They fixed that, but they still finished the event in a tie for 26th out of 43 cars.
The track was so wet that all the teams were trying to wait it out before taking on the autocross. Guy decided to send in his team. They finished 16th in that event.
In the endurance and efficiency event, scheduled for the last day, two drivers do 14 laps each around the track. The Technion car was running roughly during the first trip, but it made it. In the second trip, though, it stalled halfway through. Out of gas. End of competition.
Overall, the Technion team finished 25th out of the 43 teams.
One of the new gadgets that the team had wanted to try in Italy was a heads-up display, a device that shows key readings of the car’s system on the driver’s visor, so the driver doesn’t have to look away from the roadway. Even that didn’t work well enough to try in actual competition, Guy said.
Guy plans to take the lessons of the first few years of Formula Technion, including the hard lessons learned in Italy, and make sure they finally pay off. Next year's event in Italy has been moved up in the 2016 Formula SAE calendar, so Guy and his team may pass on it and wait for another event later, maybe in Spain or Germany.
By that time, the hurt will have subsided. And Formula Technion will be ready to roll.
“We don’t plan to do much more different. We want to get in the optimization phase,” he said. “The car was working very good. It was fast. We just want to optimize everything.”
If that happens, even the rain won’t be able to slow them down.
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