A student racing car speeds forward, dripping sweat beads of oil in the final stages of home testing. The DIT engineering team's year of hard work has yielded a vehicle to enter in the 2014 Formula Student competition at Silverstone.
The 18 students are completing their Bolton Street mechanical and manufacturing engineering courses. This is the fourth year the college has entered a car in the four-day Institute of Mechanical Engineers event: a battle with 120 other student cars from as far away as India and China.
The project is co-ordinated by DIT staff Bill Reddington, Derek McEvoy, Gerry Woods, Donal McHale and Fionnuala Farrell. Under the bonnet is a 600cc four-cylinder petrol Suzuki GSXR motorcycle engine – the maximum size permitted. In adapting it, the team had to redesign the air intake and manufacture a dry sump system to maintain oil pressure under track conditions.
The brain behind the sump innovation was student Shane O’Neil. As weight is the enemy of speed, their target this year was 235kg – far lighter than the DIT’s first car of 365kg. The loss was helped by Alan Stears’s smart wheel design. “I worked out the forces . . . and these wheels were much lighter than the originals.”
Other strides are a refined suspension system and a switch to turbocharger with major input from student team leader Stephen Brady. A greased spanner drops to the tarmac, a tinny sound lost under the engine roar – a piston blew at the last minute and the team toiled overnight to rebuild it. Now they are ready for Silverstone.
Stowed inside a transit van, the racing car is piggybacking its way by boat to England and on to the famous track. The students fly in for registration today, and four days of gruelling competition and technical scrutiny loom.
“First there are tests for leaks, that all is correct and that the design brief has been met . . . For example, that the bar is not too low for safety,” says Reddington. “Inspections are made of the frame and noise level. Some flaws can be dealt with on the spot and you can resubmit.”
Parallel to this, other engineering team members will deliver a business presentation to industry experts, and face a Dragons' Den-type grilling on their car's costs and commercial viability. "They will look at our turbo- charged unit and our weight- to-power ratio. Our car must be light but safe," says Reddington.
A car is only as good as its driver and the DIT team has four student racers – each for a set task at Silverstone. The first is acceleration over a 75m stretch, the second a figure of eight to gauge suspension and steering. The third is the sprint over a single lap and the final test moves into chequered-flag Grand Prix territory with the endurance test over 22km of track, a drive best undertaken with the dogged spirit and flair of James Hunt.
Whatever the judges decide by the weekend, the DIT project has been a success. The imagination of young engineers has been harnessed: the loudest revs are those of the team. “The idea of a car excites and encourages people into careers as engineers,” Reddington adds. “If you can work in a team on a car, you can work on anything.”