A winning formula: UTCO engineers prepare for pit lane

A chance to get under the bodywork and inside the wheels of a real race car came to UTC Oxfordshire just before the school broke for Easter when Alan O’Neill from SCU Motorsport came in to deliver a one-of-a-kind hands-on masterclass.

The Race Car set-up masterclass is part of a new qualification Alan is developing that will deliver the correct skills to students interested in careers as mechanics or engineers in motorsport.

The motorsport sector has been disappointed in the level of training those new to the pit lanes broadly have, and this led Alan to start developing this new qualification – Diploma in Motorsport Engineering –  and UTC Oxfordshire was selected for the inaugural session on Tuesday 29 March.

As you can imagine, the Year 12 and 13 students – resplendent in special SCU overalls – who took part were fizzing with enthusiasm, at the arrival of the race car, all ready to set their spanners on it.

But the theory comes first, of course. Alan talked about the theory on what things impact the race car’s performance – the wheels, the tyre pressure, the camber and the castor etc – to a rapt audience, before splitting them into teams and explaining their task.

After that it was off to the workshop where they had to measure the settings precisely on the car to set it up for action. Teamwork was very much part of the game, for example when ‘stringing’ the car to check toe-angles – one string nudged out of place meant the whole thing was out of line so they’d have to start from scratch. What made the lesson even more fun was that the students were working with an augmented reality app to demonstrate how to make the precision measurements needed.

Head of Engineering Georgina Phillips was really impressed, both with the masterclass and with the levels of understanding and enthusiasm shown by the students. She said: “It was just a great day, so fun for the students to do something so different. They got to use some high precision measuring equipment and see how engineers actually use it on the pit lane – how they take their knowledge and information and make it into something that the driver can make work on the racetrack. They learnt how to understand how the different angles in the car will affect its performance and how every corner on a racetrack is slightly different. So they understand a lot more about the technical aspects of racing now.

“The students engaged with it really well, with lots saying they really enjoyed it and that they hadn’t thought of something like that as a career but would now have a look into it.”

Student feedback was positive, despite a few teething problems, with one student saying: “The beginning presentation was great and very interactive with the questions and replies. The measuring was fun and actually being hands on with the car was not only enjoyable but also puts into perspective what gets done before a race and also just how much you have to setup before race day.”

Alan said: “It was an amazing day and the students had amazing levels of enthusiasm and a thirst for knowledge. We had some really interesting conversations and questions. Some future race engineers here.”



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