The University of Malta Racing (UOMR) participated for the fifth time in the Formula SAE Competition (FSAE). This is their second time at Silverstone, having previously competed in Italy. The competition, which in the UK is organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), is open to teams of University students who have to build a racing car to strict rules. It is not a race as such, as many imagine. It is in fact a series of tests that must be passed to proceed to the next stage and other tests during which the students gain points. Points are awarded for various stages and of course the overall winner is the team that collects most points.
The tests can be split into two: the static tests in which the students present their design of the car and its manufacture, the costings and also a business case. The dynamic tests, on the other hand, test the safety, reliability and performance of the actual car. A team can decide to participate only with the static tests (Class 2) or with both the static and the dynamic tests (Class 1).
Since this is meant as a learning experience for the participants, the judges do not stop at awarding marks but actually give feedback, so that a team can go back and do better the year after.
In the Design and Manufacture and the Costings tests, the students must show that they have applied sound engineering principles in their design and have considered various aspects, including safety and sustainability.
For the business case, the students make a presentation in which they set out to persuade a potential investor to invest in a venture to build and sell a number of cars such as the one that they have built for the competition. Obviously, they must show that they have carried out market research, considered what is required to set up production and of course produce detail financial plans.
The dynamic tests start with a scrutineering of the car, in which judges check that the car is fully compliant with the rules of the competition. The engine must not exceed capacity and the airflow to the engine is restricted through the insertion of a 20mm diameter orifice in the inlet system. Safety is paramount and one of the tests here is checking that the driver can exit in the car in less than 5 seconds. Cars that fail the scrutineering can be repaired by the team and resubmitted. There is no limit to the number of times, a team can take the car for scrutineering, but of course this entails loss of time and the possibility of missing out on some tests. After scrutineering, the successful teams next take their cars for the tilt test, where the car is tilted with the driver inside at a frightful maximum angle of 60 degrees. Obviously, all four wheels must remain in contact with the “ground” and moreover, no fuel must leak from the car at these angles. Next come the braking and noise tests, which cars must pass before proceeding further. In the acceleration test, points are gained depending on how fast the car is. In the skid pad event, the driver must go round a figure of eight a couple of times. This course is marked by cones and points are gained for speed and lost for hitting cones. This is followed by the sprint event, in which two drivers take in turn to drive the car round a set course. Again, points are gained for speed and lost for hitting cones. The sprint also counts as a qualification for the Endurance Race.
The Endurance Race is reserved for the last day and is a big test for the teams. Here the surviving cars need to complete 22 km of a set course, again marked out by cones. After completing half the race, the first driver must stop in the designated area and the second driver takes his place who then goes round for the second half. The time to change drivers is part of the overall time, so it is important that this takes place quickly and smoothly.
Here, just finishing the race is an achievement; quite a number of cars do not actually manage to finish due to mechanical or electrical failures. Then, of course, one gains points for speed and loses them for hitting cones.
Although the competition started with cars driven by internal combustion engines, electrically driven cars have now been allowed to participate for a number of years. And now, a new class of driverless cars has been introduced. For this latter class, the IMechE have commissioned the design and construction of a car specifically for this competition, so that the team’s effort is focussed entirely on developing the software and hardware required to drive the car.
This year, the UOMR participated in Class 2, i.e. in the Design and Manufacture, Costings and Business Case. Although we were hoping to do better, it was a great learning experience and hopefully all the lessons learnt will be used profitably for next year’s participation. Of course, taking part in this competition requires both financial and human resources. We were indeed overwhelmed by the size of some of the teams taking part; we therefore urge any university students who wish to join us to make contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need students not only from engineering, but in fact from all the faculties at university. As for the financial resources, we are grateful for the support in money and in kind that we receive from our many sponsors. This year, we would like to thank the Ministry for Education and Employment, Enemed, Empav Engineering, Silvercraft Products Ltd., Attrans International Transport Group, Invent 3D, Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Bahco, G.Molton Co Ltd., SKF, Adpro Instruments Ltd., Sargent & Best, Take Off Business Incubator, Playmobil, Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector, and the Small Initiatives Support Scheme.