Not everyone gets to build their own racing car and then drive it in international competition, but that’s what Rhys Clarke plans to do this year.
Clarke is Chief Electrical Engineer with the RMIT Electric Racing team, which is aiming to consolidate its position as the creator of Australia’s leading Formula SAE electric vehicle.
“We have to build a whole new car this year,” Clarke said. “We take all the engineering data from previous years and look for improvements.
“I’m planning for the car to be lighter and faster this year – and hopefully we’ll win.”
Clarke’s colleague Alex Panjkov will be in the driver’s seat when the current electric racing car takes to the track at the 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix this week.
Panjkov will take it for a spin at the Albert Park track at 11am on Thursday (23 March).
“I’m quite jealous,” said Clarke. “But I get to drive in competition later this year, depending on my skills.”
The car’s specs are impressive: peak power 75kW, maximum torque 240Nm, top speed of 120km/h and zero to 100km/h in 3.14 seconds.
The team’s participation at Albert Park this week is just part of the link between RMIT and the 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
RMIT is a strategic partner in the Industry and Innovation Precinct, the destination for thousands of students, future innovators and entrepreneurs.
Martin Bean CBE, RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, said: “Our partnership is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the work our students do across so many disciplines.
“Visitors to the RMIT marquee will see how our students and staff are shaping the world, through automotive design, virtual reality, smart textiles, robotics, entrepreneurship and much more.”
More than engineering
RMIT Electric Racing formed in 2008 and built the first electric vehicle to take part in the Formula SAE competition, organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers International.
Formula SAE is the largest engineering competition in the world with more than 500 university teams, and events on every continent.
Clarke is in the fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) (Honours).
But his colleagues in the team are drawn from a very wide range of disciplines.
“We need mechanics, of course, but we also involve people without an engineering background.
“We have quite a big business team to deal with finances. Then there’s an audiovisual team, public relations students and people who help as marshals.
“This year we’ve even had a nursing student join the team.
“It’s a whole little business we have running – it’s pretty dynamic and hones our skills. We’re putting things we learn in class into practice, so it solidifies our learning.”
Team Manager Taylor Mather, who's studying an Associate Degree in Engineering Technology, started out doing events and social media.
“Now I am responsible for personnel, as well as business, sponsorship and marketing for the team," she says.
“The team’s best achievement is getting to fifth in the world rankings. For me, it’s fantastic to be able to take such an amazing group to competition so they can see their hard work come to life.
“I think my time at RMIT would have been fine but I wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much fun if I hadn’t joined the team.”
The world is watching
Taking part in the team also boosts job prospects.
“Tesla came through the garage at the competition in December to talk to the team,” Clarke said.
“They were talent-spotting, looking for engineers. Being on the team gets you off to a flying start.”
There are other important people in the crowd. Mather said her family came to the FSAE competition late last year after asking why she spent so much time in the workshop.
“They turned to me and said that they were really impressed with how the car looked and how fast it was out on track.”
Story: David Glanz