Formula for success: Team Bath Racing Electric

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 Team Bath Racing Electric is the electric Formula Student team at Bath University. Founded in 2016, the young team are in their third season of racing and competed at this year’s Formula Student UK at Silverstone in July.  Team Leader Elizabeth Maclennan reflects on the team’s performance at the four-day event that featured around 90 combustion and electric teams.

Hi Lizzy. Can you give us a picture of what Bath’s race weekend was like? Were you happy with the team’s performance?

The team’s two objectives for Formula Student UK were to retain the title of top UK electric team and place in the top 20 overall.

We decided early on in the development process that the best way to do that was to try to collect points in every event, something no UK electric team had done before, but which we’d noticed was a common theme among the top 15-20 placing teams every year.  In order to compete in every event, it was crucial that the team passed the technical inspections known as scrutineering by Friday afternoon as the first dynamic events were scheduled for Saturday morning.

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By 6pm Thursday when scrutineering closed things weren’t looking good: we’d passed only one out of eight of the inspections.  We had a crisis team meeting in the pit area and formulated a plan for Friday that we hoped would be the most efficient route through the remaining inspections.

Friday came and the TBRe car was among the first in the queue to get started. After sailing through the mechanical inspections, we were rushed into the electrical scrutineering bay for a second attempt at the notoriously tricky electrical assessments. After the ingenious tinkering of the Electrical Lead the night before, the car was found to be rules-compliant and another hurdle had been cleared.

Finally the team was ready for the dynamic inspections consisting of the Tilt Test, checking for vehicle stability, loose items and fluid leaks, the Noise Test – which for electrical vehicles means checking the warning noise on start-up is loud enough – and the Brake Test, checking the functionality of the brake system in an emergency stop style manoeuvre.

Apart from some panic in the eyes of the nominated driver as the tilt machine rotated him to 60o to the horizontal, the Tilt Test was passed without incident. Similarly, the Noise Test was a simple pass.

We were approaching the final test.  It was Friday afternoon, 5.15pm.  The 6pm deadline was close, but so was the finish line.

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While the car waited in the queue for the Brake Test the rest of the team lined the barriers around the test area assessing the conditions. The tarmac was dry, the day was hot, the marshals looked bored.  One team ahead of us in the queue passed, one team failed after three attempts.  If we didn’t pass first time we’d be unlikely to get another chance that day. When our time came the advice from the start line marshal was ‘give it some beans’ before braking as hard as possible.  Accordingly, the driver accelerated off the line quickly, more quickly than the marshals were expecting. We were one of only a handful of electric cars they’d seen that day. When the driver hit the brakes all four wheels locked and the car skidded to a stop along the tarmac, almost out of the stopping area.  While the tyre smoke cleared the team waited with baited breath, was this a pass? It had to be! The instant the thumbs up was given the entire team exploded in cheers and whoops!  We’d done it! We’d passed scrutineering which would allow us to compete in all the events on Saturday and Sunday, and that was our best chance of placing high.

After solid performances in each event across the weekend we placed 17th overall, 3rd electric team and 1st UK electric team: everything we’d hoped for!

What were the biggest challenges you encountered?

By far the biggest challenge was resource. While we were all trying to finish our Masters degrees, studying for exams and working on coursework, we were also trying to build a car. We started the year on 45 hours per week and ended it on 130 hours per week.  I’m so proud of the small dedicated team that gave so much of their time and energy to this project.  What the seven of us ‘lifers’ managed to achieve was astounding.

The root of the resource problem is the unique nature of the project: it’s unlike any other university project in that it’s fully student-run. This is an amazing thing about the project and allows the team so much freedom to design and build whatever they want and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it is also a lot of responsibility and requires a huge amount of work: it’s more like running a business than just a student project. Most self-respecting students aren’t prepared to take on that kind of work, jeopardising their grades in the process.

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What other teams impressed you?

We’re always very impressed by our sister team Team Bath Racing, the combustion team at the University of Bath. They encountered some challenges at Formula Student UK but we were struck by their perseverance, professionalism and resourcefulness when it came to problem-solving.

Another team who we ear-marked as one to watch was Team SURTES, the electric team from the University of Surrey. They competed with an excellent vehicle at Formula Student UK and clearly were hot on our tail.

Oxford Brookes Racing placed 2nd overall, the top UK team at the competition. While clearly a very successful team, they are also incredibly friendly. They have plans to go electric in the coming years and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do!

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How would you describe the overall FS experience?

If you’d asked me at the time the first word that would have come to mind would definitely be exhausting!

Now some time has passed I can look back and honestly say that my Formula Student experience was life-changing. As well as learning a huge amount about cars, electric vehicles and motorsport, Formula Student teaches you about business, finance, marketing, communication, teamwork and commitment. Formula Student pushed me and my teammates to the limit in every aspect and yet we pulled through and were successful.

I would recommend Formula Student to anyone as an amazing experience. You definitely get out what you put in!

Has it impacted your career plans?

Without Formula Student I would never have got the job I have now and I think that is true of several of my team.  Many of us have decided to take jobs in the automotive and motorsport sector after being involved in Formula Student.

I personally now work as a Project Manager for a start-up company making prototype electric vehicles. One of my team now works in Formula 1, another works for a well-known OEM on their new electric vehicles. Having competed in Formula Student we are now part of a community of engineers all over the country and the world who share a passion for this great competition.

Many thanks Lizzy!

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