With a fraction of their international competitors’ budgets, the University of Malta Racing team has proven that dedication and perseverance are key to doing well in any competition. Here we speak to two of the organisation’s executive members to find out their plans for this year’s Formula SAE.
Supporting and investing in work by local researchers is fundamental for our competitiveness, while working towards a better future for our industry, our economy and our livelihood. One such project which we are proud to be supporting, is the University of Malta Racing (UoMRacing), a student organisation with a love for ingenuity in car racing.
“Our story started in 2012, when a group of friends got talking about car racing,” says Leonard Agius, the vice president of the organisation, which is based at the University of Malta. “Denis, our president, had heard of Formula SAE, which stands for Society of Automotive Engineers, and we were all interested. So we decided to speak to Dr Ing Maurizio Fenech from the Faculty of Engineering, who had taken part in the 2007 edition.”
The rest, as they say, is history; and in September 2014 – only two years after founding UoMRacing – the team placed 23rd out of 80 competitors at the Formula SAE race in Parma, Italy – an incredible feat considering that their €32,000 budget was eclipsed by those of the other teams, which can go up to €500,000 and even €1,000,000.
“The competition was made up of 55 petrol-engine cars and 25 electrical cars, all from different universities in Europe, China, Russia, America and Dubai,” says Matthew Buhagiar, the Secretary General. “Some of these teams are supported by major brands, including Porsche and Redbull, as some of those who take part in this competition go on to have stellar careers both in the automotive industry as well as in Formula racing.”
In order to take part in this prestigious competition, the team behind this organisation must build a car from scratch, while taking into consideration a number of factors, including whether using lighter materials is worth the expenditure and how heavy the final product will be, among others.
“Notwithstanding our budget, we managed to do well, and we placed fifth in terms of the cost report, sixth in acceleration (even though our car weighed 295kgs as opposed to the 180-200kgs of our competitors), and 23rd overall,” explains Leonard. “Thankfully, however, the cost report helps level the ground for all competitors, and allows teams with less money to build a car with the resources they have.”
The competition is split into different sections, including dynamic events, acceleration, skit pad, autocross, and endurance (1.5hrs of laps) – “We didn’t manage the latter for six laps because of braking,” exclaims Leonard. “If we had, we would have probably ended up in the Top 15!”
The team is now working on this year’s car and, through support by various entities, the budget has increased by €18,000, giving them a total of €50k to work with.
“Before we are able to get anything done, we look for sponsors,” continues Matthew. “We’re lucky to have found several of these, including technical sponsors who help us with the actual construction of the automobile, as well as sponsors who support us in cash.”
Those sponsors include the Ministry for Education and Employment, Transport Malta, the University of Malta, PWC Malta, SKF, Tekmoulds, and Trellborg Sealing Solutions, as well as Playmobil, Contintental Cars, AdPro-Instruments, Farsons Foundation, Würth Malta, RS Components, Alarm Tech, and, of course, RIDT.
“We also organise badger karting events, simulations for Freshers’ Week at University, and have a stand at Science in the City – all of which raise funds while giving us and our sponsors exposure,” he explains.
This year’s version of the car, which is currently being built at the Faculty of Engineering, will weigh about 70kgs less than last year’s car thanks to the lighter (yet more expensive) materials used in its construction.
“Last year the car cost around €15K, but this year it will cost around €45K,” says Leonard. “So far, we have managed to knock off 30kgs, but we’re hopeful that we’ll manage to get its weight down by 70kgs. The tyres this time round cost about a third of how much the total car cost last year, but it is something we sorely needed. We are also aiming to improve vehicle dynamics (how suspensions and tyres work).”
Once the car is completed, it will be transported to Varano de Melegari in Parma, Italy, where this year’s competition will take place. The cars and races will be judged by some of the top names in the automobile and racing industries, including Dr Andrea Toso, Head of R&D of Dallara Automobili, who took charge of vehicle dynamics for the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
“He liked our car last year, in fact he offered us an internship,” says Leonard. “But when we explained to him that we’re still in third year at University, he offered to come to Malta for free and give us a week-long course in vehicle dynamics – which he did! He is now also tutoring a thesis in automotive engineering; and next year he’s coming to do an aerodynamics course for us, too.”
This has been a wonderful experience for all those who have been involved in the project, and, together, they are furthering the fields of automobiles and motor vehicle engineering in Malta.
“More than anything, we believe this competition to be a great showcase for our University, and we’re now looking forward to taking part this September,” Matthew concludes.
What’s even more special about the UoMRacing team is that it is made up of students from various faculties, including engineering, physics, IT, pharmaceutical sciences (because they like cars!) and FEMA (the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy) – it is a true joint venture that is proving to be incredible successful.
You can be part of this fascinating world of research by helping many other researchers achieve their breakthroughs in all the faculties of the University of Malta. Please click here for more information on how to donate to research of this kind through the Research Trust (RIDT).