MDIA2003_19 MDIA2003_19_P2 Wed11.30 (2019)

Vrooming towards the ‘pole position’: Redback racing

by Sameera Pillai

A group of students have turned their hand to manufacturing and driving race cars, now they talk to us about the thrills and spills of emulating F1-style motorsports. 

An assortment of university students, wearing black and red t-shirts, stand huddled together in front of a track, cheering for a team member who speeds past them in a race car.

Much to their disappointment, they witness their race car facing a technical failure, threatening their team’s position in the motorsport competition.

“When the control arm broke, we were feeling stressed about it, because it snapped into two pieces,” the aerodynamics head, Yash Kedar says, recollecting the event.

“We were in Winton in a remote place, so we had to find a place to weld the pieces together.”

The team eventually won the second prize in the Formula Student Australasia competition held in December of last year.

Jason Lim, the leader, says that due to mixed weather conditions on the day of the race, they were able to capitalise on the final event. 

“We were able to score really well on that compared to some other teams who caught out on the wrong time or the wrong strategy,” he says.

Formula SAE, or Formula Student, is an annually held competition, where students from universities across the globe, manufacture, design and race open-wheel cars.

“Redback racing is a team of undergraduate students and over the course of our history, for 20 years now, we have been producing internal combustion cars competing in the Formula SAE competition,” Lim says. 

Much like Formula 1 and Formula E, Formula Student Australasia consists of two divisions of race cars namely: internal combustion (IC) cars and electric vehicle (EV). 

Redback’s current project is to develop an electric vehicle for the upcoming competition this year, as the IC car from last year will be reused as-is. 

“We are actually carrying last year’s 2018 IC car to the competition this year,” Lim says. 

“The competition allows us, we have a token for that, and we are developing a new EV car for this year.”

Ken Nguyen, the technical head (left) and Jason Lim, the leader with Redback’s IC car.

While few of the team members remember being captivated by race cars from a young age, others claim to have developed an interest only after joining the team.

“As a kid, one of the dreams I had was to be a race car driver until I realised that was slightly unrealistic,” the business head, Deborah Lui says. 

“Redback Racing, it helped me broaden my knowledge of different worlds.”

Lim, as one of the race car drivers, says that he developed a passion for racing only after he joined the team and gained first-hand experience of driving a race car.

“I actually joined up with the software team initially,” he says. 

“But as I went through, I realised how many parallels they were drawn with, other competitions, other motorsports competitions, for example, being, formula 1”.

“So, I guess it is because of Redback that I’ve developed a passion for motorsports, it is a bit weird like that but, yeah.”

For the most part, the competition that Redback participates in, mirrors F1 standards of racing, barring a few exceptions.

“There are differences, the noticeable difference, is the size of our car, as it is much smaller than the F1 cars,” Kedar says.

“For F1, the main objective is to see how good the drivers are, and they put a lot of restriction on car design, whereas we are given more liberty to design the car.”

With a lot of the equipment coming from sponsors, their car typically consists of many stickers with company names on them, including companies who sponsor the Formula Student competitions. 

“That’s part of the sponsorship deal because it’s a race car, you have got the space, you have got to put the names of who helped you out,” the technical director, Ken Nguyen says.

“It gives them recognition and so people understand that oh, they got the metal from this company.”

The manufactured race cars undergo mandatory safety tests prior to any competition and the team installs safety equipment in the car to ensure the safety of the drivers in the competitions. 

“The rules have enforced safety standards for safety for our drivers and others on the track,” Kedar says.

“One such example is the impact actuator of our car and the crumble zone of the car.”

“The impact actuator is an object placed in the front of the car, which absorbs the impact of the crash and reduces the momentum the driver faces”

Speed being a key factor in motorsports, the team manufactures engines in the cars that can hit nearly 170km per hour. 

“The engine in the body, is a motorcycle engine, which set up correctly could probably hit a 170 km an hour, if it was going full speed, with a really light frame,” Lim says.

The student-based competition, for safety reasons, designs race tracks such that, it would not be possible for the cars to be racing at full throttle.

“What we probably hit, at top, probably ranges from about 110 to 120 or 130. But that’s like at the end of a long straight,” Lim says.

“The other thing about the competition is that they design it so that, the events that I run for, for example, the maximum straight-line distance would be 75 metres.”

“Then there’s got to be another turn off, or a set of cones to slow down the car.”

The UNSW Redback team has access to three race tracks for their testing sessions in different places namely: Eastern creek, Pipton and Bankstown.

The team predominantly consists of engineering students, but it “breaks with tradition”, the leader says, and boasts of a diversity of students in terms of the different educational fields they come from. 

“In terms of backgrounds, that’s where we see less of the traditional sort of aspects that you would find in Redback,” Lim says. 

“We have other aspects like media, business and operations teams. So, they are not as technical as the design and manufacturing teams, but they do still complement the team.”

Members who aren’t a part of the technical team believe that, on the whole, to be a part of the Redback experience per se is thrilling.  

“When you aren’t driving, being one of the people who help marshal, gives you a different experience of the racing team, not just about the car and racer, but about the team as a whole,” Lui says.

With the next competition scheduled in a few months, the Redback racers are prepping to get the show on the road, both figuratively and literally. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the manufacturing period goes,” Lim says, with regards to building their electric vehicle for this year.

“The last few weeks of term is always going to be busy, so I can’t say how it is going to go, but it will be good if we pull through.”

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