Senior members of the UGRacing team spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about the team’s exciting plans for the future.
So much seems to have stalled over this past year: wedding dates have been postponed, travel plans have been delayed, but UGRacing has been making exciting progress. The University of Glasgow team which competes in Formula Student (a prominent UK student engineering competition that involves producing a small-style formula-style racing car) has come to the end of creating combustion engine cars. Come the 2022 Formula Student UK Competition, the showpiece event of any year for the UGRacing team, the team will be discarding the combustion engine for an electric car.
Callum Wilson, who is a third-year studying Aerospace Systems, leads the engineering department and told The Glasgow Guardian: “The electric car has a different design, a different chassis design and a fully electric powertrain. It’s the future of motorsport really but it also the focus of the team and that’s the thing we wanted to continue developing this year.” Whilst Wilson was willing to acknowledge, as many would suspect, that a lot of motorsport diehards were not particularly drawn to electric cars, with their inferior noise and unsatisfying smell, the engineers of UGRacing have thrust themselves into this new and challenging task with unbridled enthusiasm. Team principal Fraser Cowie, the fourth-year Aeroneutical Engineering student who heads up the entire team, revealed: “The exciting thing this year is the team came back together in August time and had a completely blank page to design this new electric vehicle which had never been done in the history of the team before...it's been great to see the engineers rise to that challenge and get excited by it.”
Part of the team’s energy for this challenge has come from learning about new areas, which aren’t always covered in University teaching. Wilson said: “We also found when starting to develop the cars there is a lot of holes in the way the University [of Glasgow], and a lot of universities, teach high voltage: a lot of them teach lower voltage stuff because it's safer but for Formula Student, you are working with quite high voltage battery packs and electric motors and this is something which is not taught a lot in the University and we think the way everything [the automotive industry] is going it is better to bring that knowledge on." Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the team are so excited about moving to electric considering the man heading up the electric vehicle development, fifth-year Mechanical Design Engineer student Finlay MacNeill, did his final year project on the electric concept car which the team intend to make.
This is not the end of the excitement for the team as they also plan to use the 2022 electric car for entry in the driverless category, for the first time, in 2023. This should occur year on year as the future plan is for the driverless entry to be the previous year’s electric vehicle entry. This is yet another attempt by UGRacing to align the team’s ambitions with the future of the automotive industry.
The 2021 Formula Student competition will see the team present their ideas for their electric car, something they have spent the year designing on computer-aided design (CAD) software, with MacNeill revealing judges’ criticisms would be more than welcome: “We are basically going to be taking our virtual CAD concept electric car and hopefully getting it ripped to shreds by the judges so we can work out where it is going to go wrong and places we can improve in. We’ll have a bit of an intense design session after the competition and start manufacturing that electric car afterwards."
Whilst the most exciting developments are on the electric car front, UGRacing is also planning a final fling for their combustion engine car at the 2021 competition. It is no surprise to discover that the pandemic has caused huge problems with creating the car, as ordinarily, the team would have over 100 people in the garage creating but this year only Wilson has been permitted in the garage. In spite of all this, the team have ambitions for what they can achieve in the on-track events at this year’s event. The 2019 competition, the last in-person edition of Formula Student UK, saw an upsetting finish for the team in the endurance category, where teams are expected to push their engineering abilities to the absolute limit. Wilson told me: “You design your character to go 22 and a half laps of a one km track so out of 80 odd teams entered at Silverstone then only something like 12 ever finish that 22km endurance race. We were so unlucky in 2019 as we hit a cone and it triggered something to fail in the car in the last lap when we should have finished but thankfully they counted it and we finished 11th overall and 8th in the UK but the plan is to improve on that again and finish the endurance.”
The challenges of the Formula Student competition go beyond computer designs and racing cars on the track. In an attempt to prepare the students for their future career, they are also expected to justify some of their business decisions in the static events which take place. Cowie said: “In the static events there is a business plan section so they have to present the business case to the judges and cost events as well where they have to justify the cost. As a competition, it's a very complete process which is kind of expected of engineers in the real world, it’s not just designing a part but the business cost of the process as well so that is exciting." Given the breadth of the challenge the team have to tackle in normal years, never mind when they are coming up with an entirely new electric car concept, then there is little doubt that UGRacing is an exciting and fun way for the University’s engineering students to prepare themselves for the world of work.
Given the technological progress that the team are making, one might mistake UGRacing as being a club reserved for car boffins. If one were to think this then they would be very much mistaken. With an operations side to their team, there is a place for everyone at UGRacing. This is a team made up of brilliant engineering minds (alumni of the team have gone on to work in Formula One at teams such as Mercedes, Williams, and Ferrari), but it's so much more than that, it is a great collective, 136 members to be precise. The team has many component parts, such as those tasked with securing sponsorship or organising the social side of things. UGRacing comes together, in much the same way which their cars come together, to be so much more than the sum of all its parts.
There have been many challenges over the past year, ranging from funding struggles to being unable to discuss design plans in their usual HQ of the James Watt South Building, but, given the team’s ambitious plans, the excitement around the team seems greater than ever. To find out more about the UGRacing project then you can find them on their website and on Facebook.
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