Pupils eager to get on the grid and race

ENGINEERS Pupils at Horndean Technology College working on an electric car which will run in the Greenpower Challenge at Goodwood on Sunday. Picture: Steve Reid (121870-962)

ENGINEERS Pupils at Horndean Technology College working on an electric car which will run in the Greenpower Challenge at Goodwood on Sunday. Picture: Steve Reid (121870-962)

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With their overalls on and their pit boards at the ready, the race team look like they’re about to spring into action at any moment.

As one member monitors a timing screen, others are preparing to change the car’s battery or get behind the wheel for a stint out on track themselves.

HIGH SPEC Sixth-formers from Bay House School at the Goodwood test

HIGH SPEC Sixth-formers from Bay House School at the Goodwood test

The team needs to stay alert throughout the entire four-hour endurance event if they are to stand a chance of bagging themselves a place in the grand final.

And what makes their achievement all the more impressive is that every one of these race engineers is still at school – and in charge of a car they have designed and built themselves.

This will be the third year that a team from Horndean Technology College has entered the Greenpower Challenge, with the regional heat taking place at the famous Goodwood Motor Circuit near Chichester on Sunday.

The super-competitive challenge pits schools from all over the country against each other.

But it’s not just aimed at appealing to the budding racing drivers out there – it’s really designed to fire up their love for engineering and electronics in the hope of uncovering the UK’s bright sparks of the future.

For the pupils at Horndean, a design and technology classroom doubles as their workshop and it’s here that they’ve been coming after school to work on their vehicles.

At the moment, last year’s car is stashed away in a corner. Capable of reaching speeds of up to 30mph, it got the team all the way to the 2011 grand final.

They’re hoping to have a second car ready in time for Sunday’s event and hopes are high that they’ll improve on the results of years gone by.

Engineering student Abigail Fletcher, 13, is one of the team’s female members and she’s been involved since the beginning.

‘I’ve been doing this since Year Eight,’ says Abigail.

‘I’m quite hands-on so I like being practical. It’s good to put what we’re learning in the classroom into practice.

‘I drive as well and it’s nice to feel the wind in your face.’

The Horndean team are competing in the IET Formula 24 series and everyone taking part is aged between 11 and 16.

All teams have the same electric motor and six 12-volt batteries to be used in pairs. During the race, at least five team members must drive the car and up to six further members can act as pit crew.

Other than the motor and batteries, teams are free to design a car from their own imagination, or build one of Greenpower’s kit cars.

All cars must follow a strict set of regulations, but the variety of designs sitting on the grid before a race has to be seen to be believed.

Under the watchful eye of design and technology teacher Mark Smith and volunteer Dennis Lockwood, the Horndean team have made it through to the national final twice in the past two years. In both 2010 and 2011 the team managed to finish in the mid-30s out of a starting grid of more than 70.

Pupils give up their own time after school to work on the cars and Mark says that means those who are involved have had to show real commitment – and that has a knock-on effect on their school work.

‘I’ve found that the students who are part of this are developing their understanding of engineering,’ he says.

‘They like learning how to design and make the car themselves.’

A key part of Greenpower’s remit is to present engineering as a fascinating, relevant and dynamic career choice for youngsters. With its use of battery-powered cars it also promotes sustainability.

But taking part isn’t cheap. It costs around £2,000 for the Horndean team to run their cars and that money has to be found via sponsorship with local firms QinetiQ, CML Electronics, Genesis Town Planning and Torberry Connectors all providing financial support. Mark is currently looking for new sponsors to come forward.

If the Horndean team are successful on Sunday they will go through to the grand final in October and everyone’s hoping that both race cars will be finished in time for the action.

After months of hard work, the day out at Goodwood is a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Barker is studying electronics and also acts as the team manager on race day.

He’s looking forward to Sunday and explains: ‘It’s my job to make sure everything runs smoothly.

‘I’ve got data and timings to look at and that tells me what we need to do.

‘It’s pretty exciting, everyone enjoys it.’

Mark adds: ‘It’s just a brilliant day. It’s a dream venue and there’s so much heritage.

‘Getting to see their car in action definitely inspires them.’

‘It’s good to put what we’re learning in the classroom into practice’

Two Gosport schools will also be involved in this Sunday’s event.

Bay House School has two teams – one made up of lower school pupils and a second run by sixth form students.

For the younger students, this will be their second year of competing. In 2011 they missed out on a spot in the grand final by just one place, but they’re hoping to do better this year.

The sixth form team is new for this year and will get their first taste of racing against others at Goodwood.

Bridgemary School will also be alongside them on the race track to take part in Greenpower this year.

Bay House School’s head of technology, Keith Last, says the students love being involved in such a hands-on project.

He adds: ‘It’s bringing the real world of engineering into the classroom. They are making something where there’s a definite product that they can take on the race track at the end.

‘They really enjoy themselves.’

RACE DAY

Anyone can go along and cheer on the Greenpower teams when they take to the track at Goodwood Motor Circuit on Sunday for the regional heat.

Spectators get in free and first practice begins at 9.30am with the IET Formula 24+ race starting at 11am and the four-hour endurance test for those racing in the IET Formula 24 category due to start at 1pm.

Prizes will be handed out at 5.30pm.

Teams have to compete in at least one regional heat and finish in the top three to automatically qualify for the national final, held in October at Goodwood.

The rest of the 75-strong grid is filled with those cars that have completed the most miles in any one race, with three wild cards thrown in for good measure.

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