Tom Kelly meets UG Racing, a Formula Student team changing their fortunes one gear at a time
When I arrived for the University of Glasgow Formula Student Car reveal on the 26th of March, I certainly didn’t expect neatly uniformed and almost cringingly polite team members to usher me from the door to the room but the unveiling was taking place.
The room was immaculately presented with a large variety of information about the team, its history, its car and what this whole competition was about.
For those of you unfamiliar with UG Racing, they are a Formula Student team based at the university. Formula Student is a competition which brings together students from around the world who, in teams, design a single-seat racing car. They then race at Silverstone. This car reveal was an event in honour of the car which has been designed and built by this years batch of engineers, who come together from across the engineering disciplines to construct the vehicle. Much was made of how it was extremely unusual for the car to be ready more than a few days before the Silverstone even let alone in time to have a reveal event. The car which is already complete will not have to race until Thursday July 9th.
The first half hour was a kind of family and sponsor meet and greet. The level of parental pride was nearly as sickening as a nativity play. I was sadly unable to seek refuge in the wonderful looking nibbles and free booze, which I had to overlook due to impending essay hand ins. I was, however, impressed by the fact they were offering such refreshments in addition to an already immaculately presented and polished event. It seemed the world of formula racing, at university as it is in life, is very monied and well resourced. I remember thinking it was a far world from the bake sales spread across university avenue many student endeavors have to resort to.
Their success, however, seems to merit the substantial contributions that must be being made by their sponsors and the university. At the Formula Student Russia 2014: Class 3 event to which they were specially invited, they received 3 first places for their concept. These were in Business Presentation, Design Presentation and Overall, whilst they came second in Cost and Sustainability. While they didn’t do any actual car racing at this event which was for them largely presenting, it was according to Team Principal Andrew Reid, the first time University of Glasgow Racing had won anything. Informed over the phone at 4 am local time by the detachment sent to represent Glasgow, he at first did not believe them.
After the meet and greet, we watched a quick and quite stylish video espousing the graduate attributes of the scheme. Largely there to tick the university’s boxes I’m sure, but it is hard to argue that the challenge of working together to design, build, and fund the car doesn’t develop students’ skills. They even have business students to gather them sponsors, a nice way to get as many students involved as possible.
What followed was a series of quite nice speeches, particularly from Reid, who presents himself as a fairly affable if slightly tense and disorganised person, but the meticulous layout of the room in general implied that this is a form of modesty. More videos were shown some actually had cars in them; they revved and everything. The song choice in one was a bit subclub, even though the room’s vibe was more mortuary during it. Largely because the video was endless and no-one was speaking in it, like a really strange music video. Just cars weaving in and out of cones in infinite loops. I began to wonder if I might have drifted into a timewarp and been experiencing the same ten seconds for about three minutes. I suspect that this long drawing out was an attempt they were making to try to make us desperate for the reveal of the car. The car had been sitting ominously under a black sheet in the centre of the room the entire length of the event.
Fortunately I do not have to wait much longer, the way in which we must spend that limited time, however, I think, takes the mick a bit. They show us a video made by Formula Student Germany. It features a poem in English, spoken by a variety of people in the cheesiest possible fashion to rising music. The number of women in stem subjects is truly tiny if you can reliably judge by most the videos at a Formula Student event.
Eventually the car is revealed, to the relief of all and it is gorgeous; a beautifully designed black beast. I hear two students, who I can only assume are from a rival team or a previous year, murmuring jealously about one part and then another. I am suitably impressed and after a number of lengthy photo opportunities I corner (an unintentional pun I assure you) Team Principal Andrew Reid for a quick chat.
What comes out, despite the flashiness of the room, is that UG Racing’s funding is significantly lower than much of its opposition. While they were a success in Russia, success at Silverstone is a very different proposition. Reid has laid down the foundation this year and he expects UG Racing will go on to more success and with this success greater funding and, perhaps, eventually UG Racing will be able to compete with the very biggest. A very exciting student initiative that seems to only be getting better.