by Ananth Saran Y
The speed thrill has finally found its fuel in our country. With the brand new Buddh International Formula 1 circuit opening up its doors in Greater Noida last year, we have formally opened up the avenues for the promotion of Formula 1 in our country. IIT Madras, riding perfectly on the ebb of the tide, for the first time ever, participated in Formula Student last year, an international car design competition that runs annually at the legendary Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom.
Team Raftar, the face of IIT Madras in this competition (an interesting misnomer, for the word has nothing to do with the road’s condition (rough tar!)) is run by the Auto Club of IIT Madras, formed in 2011 by a bunch of automobile enthusiasts. The club was started with the aim of carrying out projects related to automobiles that involve innovation and research. In addition to Formula Student, the Auto club has also maneuvered its way into two more competitions this year: Shell Eco Marathon and SAE (Society of Automobile Engineers) Baja.
Building on its previous experience from events such as the Shaastra car and its own expertise, the Auto Club decided to push the gas and undertake this Formula Student project in 2011 and formed a team of 40 students, spread across all departments and programs, including postgraduates. The enthusiasm of the undergraduates coupled with the experience and wisdom of the postgraduate students provided the optimum platform to go ahead with the project.
At the helm of club is Arun Vinayak (Shotgun), whose name seems to have become synonymous with the racing culture at IIT-M. Anand, a postgraduate at IIT-M who happens to be working at TVS, has been very influential in the technical aspects of the car by virtue of his all-around knowledge of vehicle design. Coincidentally, Anand happens to be working in none other than the racing division of TVS, and is a national racer himself. With such expertise at the team’s fingertips, it is no surprise that Team Raftar was able to cruise through its initial development stages to finish the car on time. Team Raftar’s organizational framework is built around 9 subsystems: Aerodynamics, Bodyworks, Brakes, Chassis, Cockpit, Drivetrain, Steering, Suspension and Powertrain. Each subsystem is headed by a senior student and has around 5-6 people in them. The team has been chosen so as to ensure diversity and continuity.
Last year being a first for Team Raftar, its principal aim was to qualify for the competition. Focus was given to completing the car and not to its performance. The Formula Student rule book reads like the Indian Constitution, with no less than 400 rules strewn across its pages. Therefore, the team’s resources were diverted towards satisfying all rules and building a car that could run. With devoted students burning the midnight oil at CFI throughout the heated months of the summer vacation , a working prototype was completed towards the middle of May 2012. What not with the incessant flurry of activity during its construction, the car once touched 15000 rpm because the accelerator got jammed on full throttle, causing quite a few heart-attacks!
This car, reminiscent of an engineering mechanics class with a multitude of trusses and beams around its cockpit, excelled in handling in its first ever test run. However, a major flaw with the design was discovered and the chassis had to be rebuilt with only the month of July remaining, at the closure of which the team would have to pack its bags to London. The new chassis was assembled in haste and expectedly, was not as good as its predecessor. Nonetheless, the car touched speeds of 110 kmph on the road leading from the Biotechnology Department to the Taramani Guest house, which was quite a spectacle for those who witnessed it in the midst of the holidays.
Team Raftar finally touched down on London in the second week of July to find London bathed in the scenic festivity of the Summer Olympics. The journey has many a tale to tell, one being the baffled expressions on onlookers’ faces at the Dubai airport (en route to London) with one of the team members shouting “Shotgun , Shotgun”! Once there, the team made its way to the circuit at Silverstone, not far from London, camping out at a local resident’s home. The performance of the new chassis led to a disqualification at the scrutineering (Scrutinizing the car to see whether it has satisfied all the rules set by Formula Student) test, and this prevented the car from taking to the track. The team, instead of being bogged down by this blow, took this opportunity to have a look at other teams’ cars and designs. The planning and execution of other teams was phenomenally efficient and professional. In addition, the attention to detail given by other teams was overwhelming. The feedback from other teams on our car was very positive considering it was our first attempt, and most felt that it reflected a great sense of automotive design. The experience that the team has gained will definitely be reflected in the car that will be built for next year’s edition of Formula Student.
Fast forward to the present, and the team finds itself with a much larger list of goals lined up in its agenda. The team aims to be able to professionalize its work this year to enable better interaction amongst its subsystems, reduce the weight of the car and to finish testing the car well in advance of the completion. Work has already begun on RFR-13 (Raftar Formula Racing 2013, the name given to next year’s car. Formula 1 cars are typically christened in this fashion), with the team using all of previous years’ experience as a base. If all goes well, the team should finish well within the top 40, in a competition where over a hundred international teams participate.