Just a short while ago I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with the University of Glasgow Racing team, found either in their cosy, computer-filled office in the James Watt South, or nestled in their garage, deep in the bowels of the Rankine. Chatting with Oliver, team principal, Kester, head engineer, and Callum, a team member, they introduced me to the team's current progress as they design, test and manufacture a working racing car, all with the goal of competing in Formula Student.
Formula Student, held at the famed Silverstone Circuit, is the UK's annual student racing competition, with teams coming from all across Europe, North America and even Australia to compete against each other. The goal is to create a single-seat racing car that competes in various challenges, encompassing static events like presenting the car's design, and dynamic events that include skid and acceleration competitions, a 22km endurance race, and a fuel efficiency test.
Glasgow's team have been bounding up the rankings over the years, going from 81st in 2016, 21st in 2017, and 11th just last year (though, management are very pleased to tell me they ranked 1st in Scotland). I'm told this is almost entirely due to an improvement in overall management and team cohesion. By improving communication, making sure timelines are kept to, and starting the design process earlier than before, the team in recent years have managed to squeeze in more time to properly test the car. Thanks to these tests, cataclysmic failures have been avoided, unlike in one previous year, when a major engine failure shattered the team's ranking.
The design of the car is split into three parts; chassis, electronics and powertrain, with each component having a sub-team working on it. Junior members join the T2 sub-teams, training teams that separately develop an entirely secondary car which, although isn't manufactured, is entered into its own competition. This training system, combined with a concerted effort from management to get junior members involved in the whole process, is what I believe makes the members so capable when they reach senior levels. Not only is this second design process a chance to train members, but it's also a chance to test whacky new ideas and to radically overhaul parts of the design. Such a radical change has been incorporated into the main car this year, with the wheels being downsized from 13" to 10" to save on weight. Future designs hope to include parts, like undertrays, that heavily influence the aerodynamics of the car.
Not only is the racing team clearly committed to building a great car, the club as a whole appears very committed to building a great community. In the office, people come and go, work, hang out, and apparently end up in the pub most weeks. With junior members spending, on average, around 20 hours a week working on the designs, the senior management are cautious to ensure students don't let the club take over their lives, ensuring members don't spend so much time on the car that they fail their course. In saying that, some students consider participation in the club so valuable to their CV, they'll sacrifice a first in their degree. From the number of UGRacing graduates ending up working for F1 teams around the world, employers don't seem to mind.
To me, the 2019 team appear slick, clever and extremely capable. I wouldn't be surprised if Glasgow slipped into the top ten this coming summer. Beyond that, as their rankings improve, the quality of sponsors they attract improves alongside. With a solid push towards a more aerodynamic design, fresh ideas bubbling up from the training teams, and a continuation of excellent management, perhaps the Glasgow team will soon grab a first place spot in the next few years. In the meantime, listen out for the guttural roar of the 2019 car as it cruises around the back of the main building, you can't miss it.
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