An experiment to bridge the divide between technological knowhow and practical experience is paying off in Wales.
Automotive engineering students on the final year HND and degree courses at Swansea Institute of Higher Education spend up to six weeks during the summer term and part of their holidays working in local industry.
Motivation runs so high that students as far afield as New Zealand want to go to Swansea, which expects to set up the UK’s first degree course in Motorsport Engineering and Design.
This year’s students have a reputation to uphold. In 1996, Swansea Institute Team Darrian, racing in the lightest GT3 class, won the British GT Championship outright with Scottish racing celebrity Ken Thomson at the wheel.
On 1 August, Swansea Institute Team Darrian will be at the Donington circuit with a redesigned Darrian car, which makes its racing debut in the top GT1 class. It is fitted with a lightweight aluminium Millington Diamond series Cosworth 2-litre, 450bhp turbo-charged engine, designed by Roy Millington from Bridgnorth.
This is a YBturbo engine used in the Ford Sierra Cosworth and Escort Cosworth.
Wind tunnel tests carried out at Mira showed the 160mph car is in top aerodynamic racing form.
Swansea students have been involved in the car redesign, working with the builder, Darrian Cars, in Lampeter, mid Wales, and two are now based there.
The Darrian T90 two-seater closed sports car has a monocoque body structure, made from Kevlar glass reinforced plastic material, with an anti-roll cage.
To compete in the GT1 class, students have redesigned the rear of the car to make room for the resited intercoolers which force-cool the combustion gases, reducing their volume and increasing burn efficiency.
The redesign has meant introducing a rear spoiler and aerofoil design, as well as changes to the front airdam and splitter panel to improve down force and air flow.
Problems with the intercooler meant the team had to miss this month’s British Grand Prix meeting.
Roger Dowden, director of studies in automotive engineering at Swansea, is the inspiration behind the project, which is a development of the HND course. He gave students their first taste of motor sport involvement when he drove a Swansea Institute Team Darrian car in the 1995 Welsh Racing Drivers’ Championship.
Dowden is determined that the best young brains will not be excluded from jobs though lack of practical experience.
Alan Guinan, design manager at Dynamic Suspensions in Thetford, agrees. ‘Academic qualifications are essential because they show an aptitude to learn and apply the ideas. But students lack the workshop knowledge,’ he says.
Dynamic Suspensions produces the damper units for the redesigned car. Students placed with the firm learn ‘the pleasure of doing a beautiful design and the trauma of not being able to build it’.
Guinan’s aim is to teach students the implications of even a minor mistake. ‘I want them to realise how what they write down on paper affects everything in the R&D chain.’ Workshop experience is vital, he says.
Tim Duffee says most jobs in the racing industry require academic qualifications and two years’ experience with a race team. ‘We believe we can give them that experience,’ he says adding that both sides benefit. The students get practical knowledge and Darrian can use the college equipment.
Dowden’s ultimate ambition is for Swansea Institute Team Darrian to compete in the 24-hour Le Mans endurance test. But he needs sponsors, he says.