Editorial: Congrats to Cardiff Racing: first-ever UK winners of Formula Student

Author : Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor

18 August 2017

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

Formula Student (FS) is a student engineering competition held annually in the UK – and Europe’s most established educational motorsport competition. Run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), and based on the original Formula SAE event, it challenges university student teams from around the world to design, prototype, build, test and race a small-scale, single seat formula-style racing car for autocross or sprint racing.

The car must be low in cost, easy to maintain and reliable, with high performance in terms of acceleration, braking and handling qualities. Teams present it to a hypothetical manufacturing firm and must undergo a rigorous testing process, being judged on a number of criteria via a range of static and dynamic events.

Backed by industry and high-profile engineers such as Patron, Ross Brawn OBE, the competition aims to develop enterprising and innovative young engineers, and encourage more young people to take up careers in engineering. The format of the event enables students to test, demonstrate and improve their technical capabilities, engineering design and manufacturing skills to deliver a complex and integrated product in the demanding environment of a motorsport competition. Teams work on the project throughout the year and the final event takes place over a 4-day weekend in July at Silverstone Circuit.

Students also learn important lessons on team working, time management, project management, budgeting and presentation – not to mention, professionalism. During the competition, the team must demonstrate the logic behind its proposal and that it can support a viable business model for both parties. The project usually forms part of their final year degree-level project and is considered by the motorsport industry as a ‘kite-mark standard’ for real-world engineering experience, helping transition students from university to practicing engineers in the workplace. Many FS alumni have gone on to work in the Formula 1, motorsport and automotive industries, designing and engineering the cars of tomorrow.

Teams are judged by experienced industry specialists and testing includes the following:

Static events:

- Design, cost and sustainability, and business presentation judging
- Technical and safety scrutineering
- Tilt test
- Brake and noise test

Dynamic events:

- Skid pad (figure of 8)
- Sprint
- Acceleration
- Endurance
- Fuel economy

Now in its twentieth year, the competition attracts over 80 teams to its main Class 1 competition, with around two thirds of teams from the UK and a third from overseas. Most of the cars are still powered by combustion engines, but around 20 electric vehicles took part in 2017. Teams which are not quite ready for Class 1 are still encouraged to present their prototypes and work in progress in the Class 2 competition, which attacts around a further 30 teams. Overall, this year’s competition saw more than 2,000 students from 24 countries pack out the Silverstone paddocks across the 20th to 23rd July.

Long-time FS entrants, Cardiff Racing pulled off a remarkable achievement at this year’s competition to finally become the first UK team to win the overall event in its 20-year history, with the University of Birmingham’s UB Racing finishing second, and Swedish team Karlstad University coming in third. New fuel, extensive data sets and more advanced aerodynamics were all key to Cardiff’s FS success.

The team made widespread improvements to their car, which are typically worked on over a number of years in the competition. The engineers installed an electric clutch, a three-cylinder Triumph Street Triple engine – more reliable and powerful than the previous Aprilia V-twin – and moved to a more efficient ethanol-based E85 fuel, reaching 89bhp out of the wheels.

Despite acknowledging the role played by the extra power in their car’s impressive sprint performance – they finished 0.221s behind Bath, who were penalised after a late cone collision – the Cardiff team said it was also enabled by an increase in the amount of data collected. The team used a car on a ‘rolling road’ dynamometer in development, collecting useful power output statistics and other information.

The team also designed large numbers of aerodynamic features in simulation software. The team’s sensors, data acquisition and electronics team therefore played a vital role in the development of the car and its competition success. Look out for a future EPDT feature exploring their work in more detail!

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