Many kids grow up building cars out of matchboxes, lego and spare plywood but not many will have the chance to construct a real working race car.
The Formula SAE programme sees students from a range of facilities build their own functioning race car. They then compete in the annual meet in Melbourne, run by SAE International, completing a number of time trials and tests.
Leader of the 2017 University of Auckland team Blake Roberts discussed his experience managing the team and tackling the various obstacles to competing in the events in Melbourne.
As someone who prefers hands-on work to studying, the opportunity to build a car was the driving force for Blake to sign up to the University of Auckland.
“I found out about the Formulae SAE competition on a Wikipedia page late one night when I was in Year 12. The University of Auckland team is one of two teams identified on the page as having scratch-built custom engines,” he says.
Blake signed up for an engineering degree and the team, working his way up to Team Captain in 2017.
Although Blake has a natural passion for engineering and building cars, the 2017 team experienced a number of unexpected challenges and roadblocks, especially as this was the first year running an electric car. This included building critical parts too large, shipping containers that were too small and an uncertainty about the competition going ahead as planned.
However, the team persevered on to make it to Melbourne with their car and successfully competed in all the dynamic trials, completing one. The team did particularly well in the static presentation events, winning two silver and one bronze trophy for their efforts.
However Blake expresses that it was the hardships of the programme that made the results particularly gratifying.
“There’s oversight, but ultimately we have enough freedom to make bad decisions and to learn from them. There’s no hand holding – we succeed and we fail based on our own merit and decisions.”
By competing in the programme, Blake says he developed three specific traits; Leadership, financial nous and mental resilience.
“I expect I’ll utilise things I’ve learned daily for the rest of my life. Formula SAE hasn’t just taught me how to design or how to manufacture race car parts – it has taught me so many administrative, financial and team work skills too.”
Formula SAE is funded by a number of trusts and organisations, including the Giltrap Trust and the Murray family, as well as a plethora of “in-kind” supporters. Extracurricular pursuits like these bring an immense amount of value for a number of future engineers, scientists, academics, businesspeople and more.
Not only does the competition encourage vital skill development, Formula SAE creates lifelong connections and opportunities to give back.
“We live and we breathe Formula SAE – it’s not an idle hobby or a passing passion,” Blake explains.
“We have former team members from over a decade ago who still regularly come out to the workshop and attend every event.”