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As the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) sends its team to enter the annual UK Formula Student Motorsport Competition, to be held at the Silverstone race track in July, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) looks back on its experiences in the German section of the competition it participated in at the Hockenheim race track in 2011 and contemplates the future of its own team and Formula Student racing in South Africa.

The NMMU team and its car, DibaOne, were the first South African entrants to ever participate in a Formula Student event and competed against 107 other teams at the 2011 Hockenheim competition, participating as one of 78 vehicles in the combustion category, with the remainder being electric cars. The team ended sixty-sixth overall and had one of only 25 cars in the combustion category to complete every one of the competition’s required tasks.

The Formula Student competitions require teams to build single-seater four-wheel vehicles with four-stroke engines with a displacement of less than 610 cm3 within stringent design rules. The teams are judged not only on the car’s performance on a track but also on the engineering design, the business plan presentation and a variety of static and dynamic tests carried out on the vehicle.

As this was such a positive experience for the institution and its students, NMMU Racing will again be looking forward to entering the Formula Student event at Hockenheim in August 2013.

“We’ve finished designing our second car and we’re busy manufacturing it right now. Just to make it more challenging for ourselves, we’ve decided to enter the electric-vehicle category,” NMMU mechanical engineering lecturer Trevor Stroud tells Engineering News.

He says that the more environment-friendly DibaTwo has been designed with a much lower centre of gravity than the previous vehicle and the entire weight has been reduced by about 70 kg.

With this evolution, the team will rebrand itself under the banner Green Technology, which, Stroud says, will also attract further sponsorship as the project is a costly one. The DibaOne cost about R600 000 to complete and, with the additional expenses of tools and travel to the German competition, entering the competition in 2011 cost the team about R1.2-million.

However, the cost has been justified by the significant educational value that the project has brought to NMMU for mechani- cal, electrical and mechatronic engineering students from national diploma through to master’s level.

“All the companies we speak to are excited about the value that it provides the students because, when recruiting students into industry, you want them to hit the ground running. And it’s not just about engineering but also the soft skills they learn, such as teamwork, leadership, working to deadlines, organising and planning, which all make a huge impact on how the team runs.

“It’s those skills which really set them apart from the average student coming out of university,” explains Stroud.

From the DibaOne project, a number of students have moved on to work for local automotive component manufacturers, with the team leader having been recruited into the Volkswagen racing team working from Uitenhage.

Between the Formula Student events, NMMU Racing looks for challenging competitions for the students to enter. Most recently, the students competed in the Knysna Hillclimb and achieved third position in their category.

However, finding the right event is difficult, as the car is designed to unique specifications and not only for speed, which means that racing events are not always suitable. As a result, CPUT’s entry into the class is a very positive move for NMMU Racing. “We are very excited that another university has become involved in this because, ultimately, we want to set up a local competition and start competing against them because then everyone wins and it pushes everyone to do better,” concludes Stroud.

By Jean McKenzie - Engineering News 8 June 2012