Despite being tested to the limits by technical misfortune, Team Bath Racing Electric pulled out all the stops to make its trip to Formula Student Electric China a success. Elizabeth Maclennan, Team Bath Racing Electric Project Manager, provides the inside track.
Formula Student Electric China finished on 1st December and the team from the University of Bath are now safely back in the UK. The trip was a whirlwind of action, a rollercoaster of emotions and a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Upon arrival at the event, the team was reunited with their car, equipment and tools. Fortunately at a glance everything appeared to have survived the long sea voyage intact. The team was ready to go: bring on the pre-race technical inspections!
However, on closer look, it was found that the team’s high voltage battery, a bespoke system, designed and built by the team themselves, had not crossed the ocean unscathed. Vibration of the battery whilst inside the shipping container had caused significant wear to the electrical insulation on the printed circuit boards which facilitate safe monitoring of the battery pack’s individual lithium-ion cells. The damage inflicted in transit presented a significant safety risk and the car was deemed too dangerous to run as a result.
This news was heart-breaking. The team had come so far, and it looked like it was all over. But we’re talking about Team Bath Racing Electric, not a team to give up without a fight.
The team pulled together to brainstorm solutions. Within hours of the problem being detected, the battery was disassembled, new printed circuit boards had been designed and were being manufactured on a quick turnaround in Shenzhen. The team headed to the local electronics market to pick up some spare PCB mount components, mainly connectors and fuses. Within 24 hours the HV battery had been reassembled and was being switched on for the first time with the new components installed. The whole process involved a complete strip-down, redesign and manufacture, rebuild and test of the most complicated and dangerous sub-system of the vehicle in a foreign country, on a budget and in record time.
After that high-intensity problem solving, the team was delighted when the high voltage battery worked first perfectly time, was deemed safe and had suffered no loss of performance from the changes.
It was at this point that the team received a second crushing blow: the delay caused by the battery rebuild, although tackled at lightning speed, had cost the team the opportunity to race. Scrutineering had closed for good and racing on Saturday was out of the question. Although disappointed, the team stood firm in their conviction that they’d made the right call: safety first. As we’d come so far and so close to racing, the judges decided to make an exception for the team. Although the car was not cleared to race competitively, the team were permitted to drive three formation laps of the endurance circuit but for no points benefit. The three laps went by in a flash, the car performed well, and the team were ecstatic to finally see the car on track.
While the racing was not as successful as had been hoped, other aspects of the trip to China made up for it. The welcome the team received in China was amazing, all the other teams were very interested in the team and the car, asking questions and taking lots of photos. All the Chinese teams were very happy to help when we needed to borrow things that we were unable to import, such as bearing grease. The team formed a special relationship with HKPolyURacing, the team from Hong Kong Polytechnic, one that we hope will last a while.
Team Bath Racing Electric scored highly in the static events, the events designed to test the team’s design, manufacturing and business decisions through presentations showing the results of the hard work undertaken throughout the year. The team achieved second place in the Business Event and eighth in the Design Event. This left the team at 21st overall out of 53 cars. Not too shabby considering the circumstances!
So, although the team didn’t achieve their anticipated score at Formula Student Electric China, no one could argue that they didn’t achieve their utmost in terms of overcoming technical challenges, persevering in the face of adversity and demonstrating integrity by prioritising safety over racing. The team showed incredible strength of character and of that, they should be very proud. The trip was hugely enjoyable, despite the disappointments, and we all had an amazing time at Formula Student Electric China.
The 2019 team at Team Bath Racing Electric are in the process of planning their racing season and Formula Student UK (held at Silverstone Circuit in July) is the only firm event in the calendar so far. The team are keen to return to China, having learnt a huge amount from the experience this year, and I am sure they will approach the challenge with the same attitude as the 2018 team showed at this year’s event. They have an excellent chance of being very successful, now they know what they’re up against, and I for one can’t wait to see how they get on!