Updated: Jun 29, 2020
The team at Kari Motor Speedway, Coimbatore for Formula Bharat 2019
Ever since I can remember, I was always into cars. While most people were reading comics growing up, I always found myself hooked on to car magazines. And this was the time when the internet was in its nascent stage and being up to date on automobiles took some real effort and interest.
Cut to 2015, my first year of engineering, getting accustomed to the vast diversity of people broadening my horizon to the infinite opportunities out there.
College had a club called Prototypia, where people with shared interests in automobiles came together. My classmate Somanna and I immediately decided we needed to get in.
Harsha was the brain behind all this, and he had started the club, to ensure the college does quality automotive projects - learn first and build next. We, without a shred of doubt (sounds cocky though), got into the club and started learning about the various departments that entail a student automotive project.
The competition selected for showcasing our talent/skills that year was Baja, an off-road buggy project. Through the course of this project, we came across different challenges that can never be taught in a classroom.
But my greatest learning from this project was not on the technical front, rather on a holistic understanding of a project life cycle. The most important lessons learned were the value of time and money.
Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, the project was dropped, and it was heartbreaking. But I was ever grateful to have learned and collaborated with a great bunch of seniors who shared a similar passion.
Eventually, everybody got busy with semester-end exams and my entire first year was spent without having built a car.
I was always fond of racing cars over off-road vehicles. And the project not coming through gave me a slight chance of changing my entire alignment from a Baja project to a Formula Student project.
Both Somanna and I got aboard on the thought that we couldn’t sit idle and must do something about it.
We decided that starting a team of our own to match our passion and ambitions was one of the ways to go about it. But there was a problem, both of us lacked fabrication experience to take on a project as magnanimous as a Formula Student project.
Hence, we started small, with a go-kart project and worked our way to a Formula Student once we've at least got the basics of fabrication.
And this project is incredibly special to me because of the overall exposure it provided. It changed my entire outlook for the rest of the other projects I took up eventually.
Because Somanna was more technically oriented, he headed the overall design and since I was more outgoing, I took up the overall leadership of the team. I also wanted to design the powertrain and hence took up that responsibility upon myself as well.
Lining up for the Skidpad Event at NKRC, Bhopal
There was one thing clear though, no cutting corners in funds and time; plan and execute according to plan; these were the two disciplines we imbibed in ourselves! And finally, the most important of all, our teammates.
The rule was straightforward, we have no credibility right now, if you're interested and can share the project cost equally amongst the team, you're in; we will upskill ourselves together.
This was how the first project, the Stier Racing go-kart project kicked off! And the whole team went all in!
The head of any of the departments had no value as such because all of us were new to this. We gave our blood and sweat to this project. Each swing and a miss taught us something every time and enabled us to get things spot on.
We hustled continuously for 3 months and came D-day; the event was in Bhopal. Everything went haywire in addition to the heat in Bhopal being no blessing either.
We managed to get on the track and completed all the events but for one, we were still satisfied with our performance although not very happy about it.
Much to all of our surprise we placed 21st overall out of 120 teams, that too in our first attempt.
We knew that we had come a long way from where we started but realized that it was not the end but only the beginning.
Gearing up for the dynamic events - NKRC, Bhopal
Finally, we had what is required to make a Formula Student team, a team with a glimpse of competition experience, fabrication experience, high amounts of energy, unity and most importantly, an end to end project experience.
The team was now prepared to take the next step. But there was one question that was lurking in the shadow - What was the most efficient way to make an impact and mark our presence in the Formula Student fraternity?
Also, considering that we (most of the core team) will be in the final year when we will pull off the project, how to leverage the learnings to be 'Industry-ready'
It was around this time when the electric vehicle boom hit the world, and India also started considering electric mobility as a possible alternative to fossil fuels and Formula Bharat announced they're starting FS electric for the first time for 2019. We could not resist this opportunity!
Because more times than ever, you can bring about the change by being 'The first to change rather than being forced to change'.
Adding to this, the number of FS Electric teams out there were very low in comparison to the combustion engine counterparts. We had a chance to pioneer in this field! We took up the challenge and never looked back.
The initial thought of building something electric was itself overwhelming. None of us were from Electrical Engineering, and the powertrain development formed the crux of our initial problems. Abhiram took it upon himself the entire responsibility of the electrical design and along with Vignesh who joined in the latter part of the project. Our biggest worry lay in two of the most dependable and trusted hands, Abhiram and Vignesh.
Akshay on Chassis and Electrical Integration, Ajith on suspension, Atheeth on Steering, Anoop on Fabrication, Ayush on Finance and me leading the sponsorship and the entire team, our pecking order was sorted.
We were starting from scratch and all our expenses would be in first purchases. We needed money, lots of it! Few of our teammates had good connections in reputed manufacturers and enterprises which gave us a head start into our project funds.
Slowly things started falling into place, the funds were flowing in, the design was nearing completion and the team was in the right mindset to take on the gargantuan fabrication process which followed the design phase. The exams and project never gelled with each other during the entire project life cycle.
And once the fabrication started, exams weren't our only challenge. It was ultimately a war against time, each second couldn't be wasted. At this point, we were completing everything at the eleventh hour. We had been slogging for days, and yet we were not very satisfied with the submissions.
It was December and we hadn't received our batteries itself! That was another two weeks of relentless work to mate the entire powertrain unit with the batteries and most importantly make it safe. To top it all this was the time of our semester-end exams.
Despite all these hurdles, we pulled through and finally weld by weld, wire by wire, our car was ready! Backed by industry support we were all set to venture into our first-ever Formula Student event, Formula Bharat.
We were competing with veteran teams who were a part of the Formula Student fraternity for over 5-6 years. This was altogether a different experience and despite all our efforts, we couldn't make it to the track.
Dejected we returned home and had only thought on all our minds, taking the feedback from the previous event and taking necessary action to improve the vehicle for the next event, Formula Green.
And we had just 27 days to incorporate these developments into our car. These changes played well in our favour and despite having problems on the final day, we still managed to place 2nd overall and won the most coveted "Best Design", "Best Business Plan" in addition to the Runners-Up trophy.
The proud moment was when we got to know that the winners were in their 4th car and we managed to challenge them in our first ever attempt, not to mention we were the hot favourites in the Grandstands as well!
Taking Sri. M.R Seetharam, Director - M.S Ramaiah Institute of Technology through our project design
In my opinion, much of our achievements in Formula Green was attributed to the stellar development we managed in the 27-day timeline between the two events.
I believe that if you have the right mindset and attitude, you can do anything, and this was a clear example of that.
It gives me immense pleasure to know that the 2020 car was a winner and kudos to the entire team on the effort!