Guest column: Ireland’s AutoLaunch Racing in pole position for F1 in Schools contest

29 Oct 2014

Autolaunch Racing after winning the Irish F1 in Schools competition

After Ireland’s many recent successes in all things STEM, the country is once again poised to bring home the gold – this time in the world championships of F1 in Schools.

Autolaunch Racing, a team from Presentation College, Carlow, was crowned national champion of the Irish F1 in Schools competition last May and has now set its sights on a world title. The team, comprising members Lee Campbell, John Harding, Pauric Dempsey and David Hatton, will be travelling to Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on 13 November to represent Ireland in the contest.

The F1 in Schools competition centres around making STEM (technology and engineering, in particular) more enjoyable for young people while also educating them on careers in engineering, technology, marketing, and science. Participants are not only required to design, test and build a miniature Formula One race car, but to bear in mind that marks are also awarded for marketing, use of ICT, partnership and management.

This year, Autolaunch Racing fought off 25 other national finalists in the Irish competition, earning them the right to represent Ireland in Abu Dhabi in November. Speaking on this, team manager Campbell said, “To see all the work over the past four years come to fruition and to get to represent Ireland is an amazing experience.”

Autolaunch Racing team member David Hatton 3D-printing

Autolaunch Racing team member David Hatton 3D printing elements of a design

Refining the race-car design

This fantastic achievement was, of course, not without hard work. The team carried out a rigorous process of designing, testing and refining several hundred concepts for their original design. Harding, design and manufacturing engineer, briefly outlined the process.

“So we take the best concept out of this initial selection and run analysis on it, figuring out where the main areas of drag are and try to reduce those until we get our final car design,” he said.

This design was then manufactured out of balsa wood, with some additional parts assembled using 3D-printing technology.

Since winning the national competition, the boys have not rested on their laurels.

“The competition just racks up at every level, and we ourselves have been working pretty much flat out throughout the summer,” said Harding.

“We’ve improved pretty much every area of our project, and we hope this is reflected in our scores when we get to Abu Dhabi.”

3D printing

A close-up of the 3D-printing process

Campbell made the point that the manufacturing and testing of their award-winning car wouldn’t have been possible without the team’s generous partners. He added companies nowadays are more than willing to help students with an interest in STEM.

“Many companies here in Ireland – especially with the big focus on the digital economy – want to support students in STEM subjects,” he said.

Racing against the best

The focus of the team now turns towards the World Championships in Abu Dhabi, and they are “excited, but a bit stressed” – as is only natural! The team expects some fierce competition from countries all over the world, including some multinational collaborations.

“We’re up against the likes of Australia, who have won it the last three years,” said Harding.

Harding admitted they have been keeping tabs on their competition.

“Like any competition, there’s a bit of minimal spying going on, and you hear rumours through word of mouth,” he joked.

While at the competition, the team will undergo a rigorous judging process, including a 10-minute presentation, aerodynamic testing and, of course, the all-important racing of the cars down a 20-metre track. Campbell confessed that summarising their years of work into a 10-minute presentation is going to be a challenge.

Another more interesting aspect of the judging is a series of ‘reaction races’, where the reflexes of the team members are put to the test. A representative of the group must watch a series of lights, and pull a trigger to launch the car immediately after the lights turn off. In a race that lasts less than a second and where cars reach speeds of more than 100mph, even the slightest hesitation can be fatal.

“You can never really know until on the day how you’re going to do on that,” Harding conceded.

The design for Autolaunch Racing's 3D-printed car

Autolaunch Racing’s F1 in Schools car design

Opportunities for F1 fans and interns

Competing at this level obviously means some amazing prizes. The overall winners of the contest will take home scholarships to City University London, and the Bernie Eccleston World Champions trophy.

Even so, merely competing in the contest is a reward in itself, with plenty of opportunities to make important contacts and score internships with top players in the industry.

Apart from the competitive aspect, the event will offer many opportunities for the boys to meet big names in the industry. The gala awards celebration is to be hosted by David Croft of Sky Sport’s F1 broadcasting and will feature many distinguished guests.

“We’ll get to meet the likes of the chief engineers from Red Bull and Mercedes, and some people can get internships from that,” said Campbell.

Aside from the stress of the competition, the Irish team (all avid F1 followers) hope to taste a real Formula One experience at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which takes place shortly after the contest.

“We have a keen interest in Formula One after being involved in the competition, especially in the more technical aspects of it!” said Campbell.

It’s not all about engineering, however!

“The concerts after the race are always brilliant,” he added, playfully, “but the ultimate reward would be to take home an award for Ireland!”

Ciara Judge

Digital Youth Council member Ciara Judge is a former BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition winner, along with her teammates from Kinsale Community School, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow.