Formula Student is the kind of experience you have to see to believe because there is so much to see, do and feel while you are there that it would be impossible to put it all into words – but here goes.
We went there as a group of students with something to prove to the world. As the only team from sub-saharan Africa and with it being only the second time that we were competing, people wanted to know if this little team from South Africa would rise to the challenge or be left in the dust.
Day one began with the team registering together, exploring the different employment opportunities for students all over the world and of course, the ever-terrifying, scrutineering. The competition works that you have to pass each event in order to move on to the next one, a task that is a lot more complicated than it sounds. The judges want to make sure that your car is absolutely perfect before you can move on and competition is tough. Our first day ended with most of scrutineering complete but with a few changes to make in the pit garage before they deemed Prins, our racecar, roadworthy.
After working out the final few changes required by the judges, we returned first thing in the morning to complete our scrutineering. While all of this was going on, Justin, our marketing student was preparing for the all-important business presentation, Suzan for the costing presentation, Mohammed for the real-life scenario presentation and Shareef for the design presentation.
The business presentation took place in a small room at the end of the track in front of a panel of judges and the other presentations took place in the pit garage. The night before presentations, stress levels were high and we were all nervous for the day ahead but we all shared a wonderful meal together, prepared by our chef, Robin, and kept each other motivated with kind words and by allowing the presenters to practice their presentations late into the night.
Some of our presentations went a little better than others and received lots of valuable feedback from the judges which we will pass on to the next team that goes over to compete. In honesty, the day ended in a little disappointment, having not achieved all that we had planned in scrutineering and presentations, resulting in another late night for the team in the pit while the non-technical crew helped prepare dinner back at camp.
We woke up early on day three more determined than ever, knowing that this day was the going to be the ‘now or never’ day. Due to the set-backs in the previous two days, we had very limited time to do the noise test, acceleration run, skid pad and sprint race. It was a mad rush and adrenalin levels were at fever pitch, but it sparked us to have a sense of urgency. The team worked together in all parts of the day and we kept each other motivated during the low points, always rising up again to face our challenges with a loud “1.2.3. CAPE SPEED” called out in pride.
As in life, nothing will always go as planned. We may not have got the results we wanted in the dynamic events, but the fact that we made it through all of those events and were going to compete in the endurance event was a real achievement, especially considering all the challenges we met along the way.
Day four of the Formula Student event is the most anticipated and exciting day of the competition. This is the day where cars take to the track in the all-important endurance event where cars must race around 23 laps of the Silverstone race track to get a score for the efficiency of the vehicle. This was the moment that we had all been waiting for and crowds of people gathered to watch the big event on the rather misty morning.
Mohammed and Shareef took to the track like champions, keeping the crowd and the team entertained with their impressive driving skills and, of course, our beautiful car! (excuse the bias). 17 laps into the endurance, the marshals noticed that our car had started leaking water and pulled us off the track and out of the event. The car’s cooling system had a minor leak and we were unfortunately not able to complete the event.
After all the work, sweat, tears (of pain and joy), disappointment, excitement and pride, the event was over for the team. We all had one last team pep talk from our fantastic faculty advisors, Professor Philander, Mr Erfort, Mr Riddles and Mrs Harris and we all were given the chance to have our say to the group. What was moving was the fact that no blame was placed on any one member for the unfortunate early ending and all that was said were words of support, love and wisdom from all.
Formula Student UK was an unbelievably difficult task which our team faced with the strength of 100 men. We played in the big leagues and returned having placed 45th, a massive improvement from the 2012 result where we were placed 65th. Having learned valuable lessons for both our work, personal and academic lives, we returned to Cape Town as a team who can walk with pride in their hearts for all that they have accomplished. It was the experience of a lifetime, one which I was unbelievably honoured to be a part of, and one which I hope will give future students the same sense of pride as it did for me.