What's it like to take a car from concept to competition? Mechanical engineering student and RMIT Electric Racing team member Josh Gurtler tells us what it takes to be on a racing team.
Tell us about RMIT Electric Racing.
RMIT Electric Racing is a student-operated organisation that promotes education, innovation and sustainability in the development of a fully electric vehicle for the Formula SAE competition.
Formula SAE or Formula Student is a challenge for universities across the world to design, build and race an open-wheeled racing car in under a year.
These vehicles are judged on dynamics, design justifications, costing strategies, business and presentation skills.
The team ranges from first year students willing to learn new skills, to final year students willing to pass on their knowledge.
They are studying various disciplines including, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, business management, marketing, human resources, arts, photography, information technology and more.
Take us through the process of building a car from scratch.
We design, build and race a new electric vehicle each year.
At the start of Semester 1, we review and benchmark the previous year’s car, and those outcomes are used to plan the concept for the new car.
The process of conceptualising, designing and simulating takes about five months, then once the design phase is complete we manufacture all of the components with the help of RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct and our sponsors.
When all components are made, we assemble the vehicle and spend the few months leading up to competition testing and tuning the car.
The Formula SAE competition is in December, and then we start the whole process again the following year.
How did you balance your electric racing team commitments with study?
I'm now in my fourth year studying a Bachelor in Engineering (Mechanical) /Bachelor of Business (Management).
I signed up when I started university a few years ago, attending meetings and absorbing as much information as possible.
My role in RMIT Electric Racing in 2015 was team principal, which involved leading the team in technical areas, car design, team leadership and management.
At first, I completed small tasks and eventually I was given more responsibility. Even though it was an extracurricular activity, it complemented my degree and I was able to apply what I had learned in the lecture theatre to a real project.
What are some of the hardest challenges you and the team have faced?
Being a part of RMIT Electric Racing is an amazing experience. I’ve learned many new skills and had a lot of fun, but every day there’s a new problem to solve.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of being on the team is making sure milestones for the car are achieved on time.
We have to deliver a large-scale project by a fixed deadline that cannot be changed i.e. the competition.
Building a prototype vehicle is no easy task – even qualified engineers struggle with it! So for students to design and build a new car every year is quite a challenge, but also very rewarding.
You were involved in the most recent Formula SAE student racing competition. How does it feel on race day and how did the car and the team go?
The competition goes over four days in the middle of December, and the team has spent the whole year in preparation for those four days, so everyone is incredibly excited and also a bit nervous.
Most people haven’t slept well because we’ve had quite a few late nights but we’re all still having fun. The team worked really well together at competition last year, and knew exactly what they had to do to in order to achieve the best result possible.
In the 2015 Formula SAE Competition we were the number one electric car and came seventh overall in the race with combustion cars.
With all our success over the past few years, RMIT Electric Racing is now ninth in the world rankings.
Why did you choose to study mechanical engineering?
I chose to study mechanical engineering because I love building and understanding how things work. I’m a very hands-on person and learn best by doing.
The RMIT program is very practical and I get to learn a wide variety of skills including computer-aided design (CAD), machining, fabrication and leadership.
What might the racing cars of the future look like?
The future of vehicles and racing cars is definitely electric.
Electric cars are becoming more competitive with combustion cars and their range has increased dramatically, while still being affordable.
With the success of Formula E and Tesla, electric cars are now an accepted and respected technology and it’s only a matter of time before it will be normal to see them on the street.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray