Formula for success

Published:  27 July, 2007

Sponsors provide valuable help for the engineering department at the University of Hertfordshire.  PWE looks at one course on offer and how one sponsor provides assistance for students whose interest is motorsport. 

Motor racing is a demanding sport.  The costs are high - but the rewards can be exciting.  Over the decades, the profile of events such as Formula One races has helped to encourage an increasing number of young people to seek out motorsport engineering as a career.

But just how do go about getting the training that is needed?  Well, one academic institution that is enjoying a success is the Hatfield based, University of Hertfordshire (UH).  As part of its BEng Honours course, students have the opportunity to take part in the Automotive Engineering with Motorsport programme.  And in particular, to participate in the highly successful Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Formula Student competition.

"Hertfordshire has created a reputation over 30 years for providing the automotive industry with engineers who are able to develop innovative solutions for high performance vehicles”, explains Alan Combes, head of Automotive Engineering at the University"s School of Aerospace, Automotive and Design Engineering.  “This degree course has similarities to the MEng/BEng in Automotive Engineering, but includes a unique emphasis on the motorsport side of the industry.  It is accredited by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and provides the first step towards graduates gaining chartered engineer status.”


On course for success

The first year on the UH course includes automotive technology and business, analytical techniques, electrical, materials and mechanical science, introduction to manufacture and design, and fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.

The second year adds vehicle design and aerodynamics, thermofluid mechanics, computer-aided engineering and structural mechanics, materials and structures, dynamics, instrumentation and control systems, project management and product development.

Many students then take the sandwich option, spending their third year in industry – often returning with company sponsorship to complete their studies.

The final year sees motorsport engineering come to the fore with modules covering aerodynamics and engine design, vehicle engineering design, dynamics, structural analysis and manufacture, and mechanics and properties of materials.

In addition, most students volunteer for the Formula Student project.


What is Formula Student?

It started life in the United States in 1981 when the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE Inc) began a Formula SAE programme.  In 1998, the IMechE took on the management of a European venture in a partnership deal with SAE. 

Combes explains: “Although on the surface it concerns the design and production of a single-seater racing car, Formula Student is also more about creating engineering talent for the future. And while design and manufacture is vital, so, too, are the management, marketing and people skills that are so essential across all sectors of industry.”

He continues: “This is a real commitment.  Alongside their normal studies they will be expected to be part of a team that will design, build, test and then race a car that has been started from scratch.  Not only that, they have to stay within budget constraints and present a business case for a venture capital provided to fund the project.”


Tough specifications

The students have to assume that a manufacturer has retained them to produce a prototype car.  This vehicle is aimed at the non-professional sprint race, or weekend autocross, enthusiast.  As a result, the car must meet some very high performance criteria – such as the capability of speeds of over 100mph and acceleration of 0-60 in 4 seconds. 

Not only that, the car must be easy to maintain and be reliable. And, of course, cost is important.  This hypothetical manufacturing company is planning to produce 1000 cars per year at a cost below £16,000 (€21,000). The challenge to the team is to design and fabricate a prototype car that best meets these objectives.

“With all those conditions to be met, it is not just the fastest car on race day that wins – there are so many other factors to be considered”, declares Alan Combes.


Help from industry

A number of companies have added their support for UH’s participation in Formula Student through various sponsorship arrangements.  One of them is a close neighbour of the campus, Henkel Loctite Adhesives.

“The Loctite brand has been associated with motorsport for some time”, explains marketing manager, Colin Chapman.  “The development of products that will be used under such demanding conditions as Formula One, the Dakar Rally, Super Bikes and Indy car racing, has a positive knock-on effect for both industrial and consumer customers.  But, in addition, by showing these students just how well our products do work and that they can be trusted, we know that they will select that brand when they are involved within their chosen career.”

He continues: “We’ve been involved with UH since the start of Formula Student.  High technology companies – especially those on the motorsport sector - appreciate the importance of top flight engineers coming through the academic route.  Sponsoring events such as Formula Student helps develop that supply.”

Combes agrees: “By helping the students get a high degree of hands-on experience, companies are doing themselves a service.  We don’t just look for products from sponsors; we look for the input of expertise.”


In depth knowledge

The students start with a blank sheet of paper – and within around eight months must demonstrate a drivable car.   

“We have contact with the students right at the start of this process”, reports Colin Chapman. He adds: “After a presentation about the adhesive technologies that are available, a colleague and I visit the workshop to show, in practical terms, how adhesives will play a crucial role in the design and build of their car.

“Understanding how adhesives will benefit the students enables them to include information in their presentation to the judges on the all-important race day.  By showing how, for example, an adhesive will perform better than an interference fit the students can gain extra marks.”

A wide variety of adhesives have been used on the cars over the years.  For example, one year the car weight was reduced by about 10% by incorporating a required firewall into the driving seat. Loctite Hysol 9483 two-part epoxy adhesive was used for bonding this driving seat. Using bolts would have added – not reduced - the weight.  The product is also used in chassis construction.

“Anaerobic adhesives such as Loctite 222 were used for threadlocking applications throughout the car”, reports Alan Combes.  “And when it came to retaining – such as bonding spherical bearings into wishbones – Loctite 603 proved ideal.”

But, says Alan, adhesives are not confined to the workshop: “To cope with race day emergencies, the team carry a repair kit that includes Loctite 3473 Metal Set - a steel filled epoxy.”


Bringing it together

At an annual event held in July, a team of industry judges assesses each project and analyses the design and methods used.  Here, students also make the formal presentation to the judges explaining their design philosophy and the cost predictions.  In addition, students must demonstrate that the cars meet several set performance and emission targets. 

The culmination of the evaluation exercise is an endurance demonstration.  This involves students driving the cars for 20 laps against the clock over a demanding circuit - including a compulsory driver change "pit stop".  The final aspect is a Design Debrief by the judges at which both competitors and spectators hear the opinions of the experts about each car.

Over the last six years UH have been crowned top UK Class1 team twice – most recently in 2005 - as well as winning Class1-200 (for re-engineered cars) outright in 2006 for the second time.  In a very competitive and large field of universities this is a major achievement.

Alan Combes concludes: “We know this course and Formula Student is a success.  Graduates have found themselves positions within just about every Formula One racing company.  And others have achieved high status at many other prestigious organisations.  It’s hard work – taking part in Formula Student takes dedication – after all, they still have their academic studies to complete while the car is being developed.  But it’s well worth the effort.”

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