University Students Build a Race Car

Team Spark has been competing in Formula Student, an international design and racing competition, on behalf of the University of Iceland since 2011. To compete, students have to design and build a one-man race car and race it against other students from around the world. The competition was first held in the United States in 1981 but since 1999 it is held every year at the Silverstone racetrack in England. We heard from the team captain, Sigríður Borghildur Jónsdóttir, in order to get to know the team and its operations better. 


H: How many people are involved with the project and how are team members chosen?

S: We are around fifty engineering students from every department of engineering at the University of Iceland. Those who are willing and able to compete are welcome to join the team but the expectations for team members are high as the projects demands a great deal of time and ambition. 

H: Do you build a new car from scratch every year or do you utilize parts from previous years?

S: We use parts from previous years due to cost but the competition demands certain minimal changes to the car’s chassis every year. We made a great deal of change last year and intend to utilize much of that design this year. This year, the focus is on improvement. 

H: What exactly does the Formula Student competition entail?

S: The team is graded on how well it does in five races and three presentations. Up until now, we have not been able to compete in the racing portion. In order to race in the competition, the car must undergo a very strict security examination. We have a very detailed rulebook we must follow. TS14 (the team car in 2014) did not pass the rain test, where water was poured over the car, after which it was required to start. TS15 did not pass electrical examination, which can be traced to insufficient time to test TS15 last spring. We have always done very well in the presentation portion however and doubled our points for the design of the car this summer. 

H: How does the project help with your studies and how will it profit you in the future?

S: At school we learn mostly theory and we feel the practical application of our studies is lacking. It is important to understand what one is learning and we learn much better by trying, experimenting and doing something with our hands. This is something our electrical team mentions especially. The project is a great jumping off point to later employment: we are in great contact with a lot of companies and these connections are very important later on. Tackling such a big project gives one extensive understanding of how things work and what needs considering. How much one can learn from a book is limited. 

H: Isn’t this time consuming and expensive?

S: Yes, this is time consuming. For the last few weeks we’ve been adding up how much time team members spend on the project and it comes to more that 500 hours a week. This kind of a project is also rather expensive. Fortunately, Icelandic companies are ready to support us, either financially or through work contribution. Without them, this project simply would not exist. 

H: Do members of the team get credits for the project?

S: This is a six-credit course, spanning both the fall and spring semester. This year students of electrical and computer engineering are being credited for the first time. 

H: What are the team goals?

S: For TS16, Team Spark has three goals. Firstly, we are going to drive the car 100 kilometers in Iceland in order to fine-tune the car’s handling and train our drivers before going out to the Silverstone track.  Secondly, we aim to double our points in Formula Student by competing for the first time in the racing portion of the competition. Thirdly, we want to uphold our community responsibility, which involves promoting technology with elementary and secondary students, promote equality and maintain our aim as environmentally conscious team. 

H: Who is allowed to drive the car?

S: The team-members are allowed to drive the car. We always have a go-kart competition where those with the best times and a suitable height and weight are allowed to be drivers. We choose five drivers each year and we always maintain equality there as well as in other areas. 

H: Can you follow the process?

S: Yes, on our Facebook-page, Snapchat (team.spark) and Twitter. We also have a website

H: When is the competition? Can you follow the competition? 

S: The Formula Student engineering student competition is held worldwide. We will be competing in the one held at the Silverstone racetrack in July 2016. The competition can be followed on social media and both competition organizers and Team Spark will be posting from the event. 

Text: Hörn Valdimarsdóttir

Translation from Icelandic: Áróra Einarsdóttir