“A REAL rollercoaster!”
That is how a Transition Year (TY) student at Kinsale Community College describes building a miniature F1 (Formula One) car from scratch.
Ben Loughnane, along with four other 16-year-olds at the school, have qualified for the Irish finals in the F1 in Schools Ireland Competition 2021 which takes place virtually on April 19.
Their TY project challenges them to design, build and race the fastest and most efficient F1 car of the future, powered by compressed gas cylinders. The world finals take place in Singapore at the end of the year.
A complicated-sounding exercise, it helps students develop fundamental engineering, entrepreneurship, business and team management skills. Past pupils that have taken on this project have founded start-ups, are working in cutting edge engineering roles, and some have even made it all the way to working in F1.
Each of the five team members (who operate under the name ‘Flat Out Racing’) have distinct roles in building the racing car, on a one to 20 scale of a real F1 car). The different roles reflect their interests and areas of study. Ben is the finance manager who looks after sponsorship; Charlie Sheehan is the team manager; Zack O’Brien is the graphic designer; Kris O’Callaghan is the design engineer and Conor Fitzpatrick is the manufacturing engineer.
Ben says the team has to create a pit display and also had to create their own brand, attract sponsors and have a presence on multiple social media platforms. They have succeeded in getting primary sponsors and associate sponsors on board. The primary sponsors are Thermo Fisher Scientific, Greyhound Express and Flogas. Their associate sponsors are Kinsale Physiotherapy Practice and Centra Kinsale. They are working from a budget of around €500.
“We have to be an enterprising self-sustainable team, procuring team uniforms, car materials, registration costs and posters,” says Ben.
They started working on the project in November, spending two hours a week of school time on it.
“We obviously have to spend more time on it outside school. We’re having meetings online and we’re working much more frequently as we get closer to the competition.
"The top four teams will travel to Singapore (if foreign travel is allowed). I don’t think there’s a monetary prize. But it’s a very prestigious competition.”
The process of building the car includes “significant research and development — Kris taught himself how to use Solidworks which is a computer aided design programme.
“We used a 3-D printer to manufacture the front and back wings of the car and sent off the body of the car to be manufactured. We’ll simulate a wind tunnel to test the car.
“Once we get the physical car back, we’ll paint it and put our sponsorship logos on it. The car will be placed on a 20-metre long track and we aim to make it go the 20 metres in 1.5 minutes. A button is pressed and it blows out the gas cylinder.”
The slogan for the competition is it’s “the fastest STEM competition in the world,” incorporating science, technology, engineering and maths.
“The competition is a good example of applying real world STEM subjects. We are essentially TY students running our own engineering and enterprise team.”
The learning involved in this exercise is “on a massively broad scale. For some, it’s learning about engineering and IT as well as manufacturing, design and graphic design. There is business interaction involved and communication skills.
“It’s learning about strategies and bringing the project together as a group. It’s definitely inspiring from my point of view. I intend to take economics and accountancy for the Leaving Cert.”
Looking ahead to university, Ben says he is interested in studying “the whole area of business, marketing and economics and finance. I think as well that critical thinking and analysis combine so much with marketing and business interaction.”
Conor and Kris did metal work for the Junior Cert, which has come in handy for the TY project.
When the team was looking for sponsorship, they set up a strategy. “We had to go in and hold initial meetings with potential sponsors and tell them why they should invest in us. So it’s about putting yourself out there.”
Is there any fun involved in this schoolboys’ project?
“There is a fun element to it. While we’re applying our subjects to making the car, we’re doing it in a fun and innovative way. The team chemistry is strong. It’s a bunch of lad who have different challenges, coming together.”
It’s a good test of friendship too. All the team members, who live in Kinsale, are enjoying working together. “TY is all about social experiences.”
Because of Covid, there haven’t been any trips abroad. For Ben, working on the car “has been a good outlet for me. There are different tasks every day, whether it’s setting out our financial budget or designing the car. I’ve had something to stick my teeth in over the last couple of months.”
He says “the hope is that we’ll get to establish international collaborations. The project is finite as it’s not a research project as such but there’s definitely a case of applying it to use as a platform for different college courses that we’re interested in.
“I can’t emphasise enough the real life application of skills we’ve learnt in the classroom and how that has inspired us for other challenges.”
Watch out, Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers!