You don’t need an introduction to Raftar if you are a student of IIT-Madras. Most of us have seen them with their T-shirts on at the messes, on the way back from CFI and wondered what building a race car from scratch must feel like. After being placed second at Formula Bharat 2017, T5E sits down with the Raftar team captain Aishwary Gupta and former team captain Vishwajeet Sikchi to find answers to some age-old questions.
Starting off, this is one question, that I am really interested to know the answer, has being in Raftar changed the way you look at cars?
As such, I don’t think Raftar involves looking at cars in a different way. Raftar can be thought of more as an engineering design competition than a racing competition. When you work on a team like this, you get to learn a lot about the design and the interior of a car. Sometimes, we do try to relate what would have gone behind the design of a car and analyse it. Apart from that, I don’t think Raftar has changed the way we look at cars much.
We don’t need an introduction to what Raftar is, but we are interested to know what makes Raftar stand out among the other formula racing teams in India? What is something that is unique to Raftar?
Raftar is just a five year old team and the achievements we have had in such a short span- and over established formula teams- are something we are absolutely proud of. We were placed third last year in Formula Student India, all while being the youngest team in the Top 5 and the same for this year as well. In such a short period, we have grown very fast and become very aggressive with our designs. In terms of keeping up with the international scenario and delivering it in the Indian scenario, we have done ourselves well. Another thing is that, the funding we receive from institute is far lower than what many of the top teams in India get. Even so, we have been able to perform brilliantly, and basically have always been punching above our weight. We were the first team in India to clear the technical inspection in first year at Formula Students Germany and we were the lightest team, in another season.
Looking back to the journey you’ve been through as a team, what do you consider to be your biggest achievement till date?
As a team, it’s not always about the number of trophies you have in your cabinet. When we started out, we were not doing too well. That’s when we started looking at the bigger picture and tried to understand what was going wrong. In the year 2015, we spent an entire year on the car, and because of the floods we had to sacrifice 12 days, almost immediately before the competition. We later faced some problems while testing and had to stop our testing for a week. In spite of everything, we had the conviction to pick ourselves up and more forward as a team. The attitude of the team and the amount of effort they put in helped us pull through and we were placed third in FSI 2016. In a nutshell, not giving up to any challenges coming in our way, and facing them head on has been the key point for our success. And developing a team that can take it is our biggest achievement.
How do you think the team has matured over the years, ever since the inception to where you stand right now?
The team always learns quite a lot each year and tries to apply it in the immediate competition. When we competed for the first time, we were not able to clear scrutiny. From there, we have evolved to being in the 5 teams out of the 70 to clear and complete the event. That should summarize how far we have come! We’ve taken into account what went wrong each year, and worked on that. In a way, it has been a process of ongoing improvement. From a team of 7 members we have grown to a team of 45. Like I said, none of our achievements came overnight. All our experiences and expertise have been passed down from one team to another. We have come a long way.
Surely, being part of such a team is demanding, What were some of the biggest challenges that you have faced this year?
This year, a lot of drastic changes have been made to the car design. We changed our engine, and a lot of other changes as well. So incorporating all these changes to the car design and still having a reliable car, a car that completes the competition has been the biggest challenge that we faced this year. This was the issue that we had in the testing period. We had some issues with the engine, but we were able to sort out the issues that we had. Basically given a relatively small budget, incorporating these changes and making sure that we had a winning car was the biggest challenge for us.
For most of the people who have never been on a race track, what do you feel when are in a race track, in the middle of all this action?
Ironic as it seems, we don’t feel anything much at that time, we are so pressed for time that we can’t stop and take a look around to digest it all. The things and the event just keep going on so fast, and up until you finish the competition, you can’t look back and know what has gone wrong. Everything keeps happening and you just have to respond to them by reflex, make your strategy as it comes and keep moving forward. At the race track, the speed at which everything happens is just phenomenal. Keeping your head clear and focusing on what right in front of you is the only way you can handle such situations.
What kind of work and effort goes into building a car? Just how demanding is it exactly?
Formula racing is not just about building a car. There are so many things that happen around it. You have to take care of funding and the sponsorship, all while respecting the formalities of the institute. We have to design the car, manufacture the car, test the car and handle the logistics. It gives an end to end exposure of what happens in terms of management in the industry. It gives you a clear cut idea on how to deal with real life management issues outside the spectrum of IIT Madras and what the industry expects from us. Managing a big team and making sure that everyone’s goals are aligned towards one single end result are all part of the work that you have to do. The team demands so much from you and you find yourself pushing the limits that you’ve set for yourself. From cleaning the area to testing a car and giving sponsorship pitches at the headquarters of companies such as MRF, it gets you to do everything.
What is the team structure in general and how does each of the department work?
We have 7 departments- which we call subsystems-such as power systems, vehicle dynamics and so on. There are engineers in every subsystem, and then there is a subsystem head and above them there is a chief engineer who oversees all the technical progress and keeps them updated. Apart from that, we have a Web-ops team, a Design team and a Sponsorship and Marketing team. The sponsorship team takes care of our social media activity and the funding that comes into Raftar. Above all this there is a team captain, who overviews all the work and reviews all the aspects of the team.
Finally, do you have any memories or incidents that you would like to share with us, What is that one incident that happened during your time in Raftar that you would never forget?
Team Captain Aishwary recounts a personal experience during his time at Raftar:
“There is a 22 km run called the endurance run. It is the last event of the competition and tests how reliable your car is. You have to continuously go on the track for the run and in between the runs, there is a driver change, which is the most crucial time in the event. That’s the part where most of the teams fail, or their cars break down. So it is a make or break point of the event. Just when we completed the event, I was pushing the car out, and when we came out after I was done, I saw the entire team lined up at the exit of the track. I could see each and every one around me shouting “Raftar”, and every face showed satisfaction for what we achieved. Being there at that moment, that image is something I would carry with me for the rest of my life. That is the moment that you realize that all the work that you do throughout the year and all the hardships that you face are worth it.”