Each one of us has watched on in awe of their sheer passion as this team tested their brainchild around the Gajendra Circle into the AMs. And it is no surprise that this team has gone on to win Formula Bharat 2020, a prestigious student formula-racing competition in India. T5E sat down with one of Raftar’s senior-most members, Anirudh Sundar, a fifth-year Mechanical Engineering student, to hear the story of the win from the team’s perspective.
T5E: How has the team been feeling since Formula Bharat ’20? Will we see Raftar bring more trophies home?
Anirudh: The team has been quite enthusiastic about the upcoming international competitions. All these competitions have really good world rankings, which depend on the kind of teams that participate in them. We are just trying to get into the best of the best.
To answer the last part of the question, we are renovating our trophy cabinet, so yes. Only half the season is over and we have already collected 7 trophies. Last season we collected around four or five in total.
But at the end of the day, it does not matter because the results of the competition are only an indicator of what we have achieved so far and not of what is to come. We have nothing to be complacent about.
T5E: Did any of you attend Saarang, or was it just background music at CFI? When was the last time you took a break from Raftar and/or went home?
Anirudh: Despite Raftar being a priority, our lives aren’t all about it. Many members did find time for Saarang. But personally, the last time I attended Saarang was in my first year. We also always find time to play football or F1 2019 together. As for going home, every summer, members take off for 2 weeks, and in the winter, one week. We just make sure that, when we go home, the team’s functioning is not disturbed. Raftar has become something so customary to the team that there is no real distinction in our heads between what we do in Raftar and what we do outside of it. We certainly do not confine ourselves to CFI, and we do interact with those outside of CFI, but the work we do in Raftar is great fun for us.
T5E: How much time did you spend in the last semester building RFR20?
Anirudh: The design of the car was almost over two semesters, starting January 2019 after Formula Bharat 2019. After the international competition Formula Student Germany 2019, we started the manufacturing. So, it was roughly three months in design, three in manufacturing, and another three in testing, validation, setup, and driver training.
T5E: When did you join the team? What was the car like back then?
Anirudh: I joined the team in April 2016, post the victory in Formula Student India. That was the first time Raftar placed in a podium position; they came third. The previous car, RFR16, which is now five cars ago, had reliability in its mind. The whole car was designed to be pushed like a bull. Whatever you did to it, it was not going to break. But at that point in time, the car was being subject to a lot of changes and that’s when I entered the team. From the eyes of a first-year student at that point, I think the aim was to move from a reliability-oriented car to a performance oriented one.
Team Raftar preparing at the pits for the first round of the Design event at Formula Bharat ’20
T5E: When you discovered the amount of work that you would have to put in from the latter part of your second year, did you have any second thoughts about giving up almost everything else you could have been doing in Insti?
Anirudh: The workload did not increase out of the blue. After we joined the team, we began slowly inching into it, and at one point we just found ourselves in the middle of everything. I never found a stark distinction between the two sides. Personally, I did not have second thoughts but there have been people who did. Some stayed put and here we are, post Formula Bharat 2020!
T5E: The drivers of the car must have played a significant role in this feat, without a doubt. Who are your drivers, and how are they groomed and trained to drive a car of this type?
Anirudh: All the drivers are from the team. We have Abhiram Shenoi, Omkar, and Reyshwanth in their third year, and Vikram, Sanjan, and myself in our final years. My final drive was in Formula Bharat 2020 since I’m graduating soon.
It is not the conventional car where one sits down and drives. The driver has to lie flat with only the upper back erect. So, we focus on giving a lot of time to the drivers who we think have a lot of control over the older car. To select the drivers, we initially pick out those members of the team with a knack to control the car. We usually go on team karting sessions: that’s how we start off. There’s also one week when we let everybody drive the car and see how each one can adapt to driving a car of a completely different geometry.
After the selection, the skill of a driver depends on how efficient the training and the testing is. Some of us even have simulators in our rooms! We have had some really skillful drivers but as a matter of fact, to experience some good drives, we also need a reliable car. It hugely depends on how much training for the driver and testing for the car the team can afford.
T5E: Given the intensity of the competition, we can’t help but ask if there were any last-minute saves or unexpected hurdles that you thought you would not overcome.
Anirudh: There was one incident that completely caught us off guard. In the competition, there are two sets of events: static and dynamic events. The former assesses the car and its design, and the latter is where the car actually performs. Before the dynamic events, the car has to be scrutinized and deemed safe to run through a series of checks called technical scrutineering. This is divided into four parts: mechanical inspection, tilt test, noise test, and brake test. We were not able to clear the brake test initially. In fact, it took us 22 attempts to eventually get through it. During our first few attempts at the brake test, our brake rotor failed and it ended up damaging a part of our wheel assembly. This meant that we failed the brake test, and consequently, the mechanical inspection as well, since the brake rotor is an essential component of the car. All the inspectors were convinced that our team would not be able to clear the mechanical inspection and come back to the brake test on the same day, and smugly said to us, “kal dekhlenge, kal aajao.”
Things turned more intense when the results of the static events were announced at 4 pm. Our failure had happened around 1:15 pm, and we had kept ourselves reassured by assuming that we had till 6 pm (which is when the competition site closed) to fix the issue. So, when we found out at 4 that we had qualified for the design finals (for which the car had to be fully assembled) we suddenly had to put together the whole car, and we couldn’t take our own time with it either. If we couldn’t arrive at the design finals with a fully assembled car, we would be throwing 150 out of 1000 points straight out of the window. We raced around like there was no tomorrow, understanding what was at stake now, and managed to not only reassemble the car for design finals and place first in it, but also complete six attempts of the brake test! (We eventually passed the mechanical scrutineering the next day.)
The team worked doubly fast to make all this happen. Let me give you a fair idea of the scene. The brake test happened in one corner of the track in the far east side. Some of the team members usually stay on the tower, which was on the far west side. The distance between these two ends was almost 1.2 km. Once the brake rotor failure happened, the team members on the tower, just by looking at what happened from 1.2 km away, were able to tell which components were required to be put back in the car. By the time the car returned to the pits, everything was ready to be fit in. This was the kind of efficiency we were working with.
Given that we’ve been tight with our budget, it seemed very overwhelming at that point. But the team was prepared; the team was ready. We definitely surprised ourselves and every other person there. All of FB20 was amazed that we pulled it off.
RFR20 going out for the Autocross event
T5E: Having worked day and night on the car, did you expect a podium finish or were you more focused on ensuring that the car made it through every test?
Anirudh: We had been sticking to playing it safe through the past few competitions. But this time, we entered the competition with a mindset to push on track. We didn’t really care about encountering a failure. We just wanted to show how dynamic our car was. It is important to note that the teams above us were using 600cc engines and we were using one which could perform only two-thirds as much. With that engine, we were able to set a blistering time in acceleration and come fourth in it. We came third in skid pad, third in endurance, and first in fuel efficiency. We were definitely not holding back. It was not a competition that we just wanted to enter and leave. We wanted to perform. However, we were not expecting a podium finish. Our only mindset was to keep our head down, push to the maximum every day, and see what the results would hold for us.
T5E: What would you say makes Raftar standout from the 59 other teams that contested in FB20? The team is known for its level of dedication. But what went differently this time?
Anirudh: Our team is one that is respected throughout the country. Not everyone in Insti may know about us, but you’ll be surprised to see how far the name ‘Raftar’ reaches in the Formula Student community in India. Our team is one that always encourages dialogue with the other teams even when we have our own tasks to complete.
We don’t discourage our competitors from talking to our members, taking photographs of our car, or learning something from us. Our team is and has always been open.
Every one of the 60 teams has this trait to some extent without doubt, but from my experience in seven competitions and four Formula Bharats, I believe that we are one of the best in upholding this spirit of Formula Student. I think that’s what makes us an integral part of the Formula Student community.
The only thing that went differently this time was that there was nothing that we couldn’t handle. The kind of mentality and strategy we go in with has always been to maximize the performance of the car; our execution has been the same through the years. There have been small issues time and again that have always held the team back and that is something we especially tried to avoid this time. And by avoid, I mean solve.
The car at the Fabheads Composite Tech event
T5E: Having thulped FB20 by a clear margin of 100 points, how did your following 24 hours go?
Anirudh: It was really emotional for me because Formula Bharat 2020 was iconic. The first competition I entered with this team was Formula Bharat 2017. And that was a long time back, when three-fourth of Insti’s current population wasn’t a part of Insti yet. I remember the whole team feeling let down because we had missed out on first place by just 9 points. 9 out of 1000 points. For a lot of members, that was their final competition. With this Formula Bharat victory, we finished what our seniors started. We dedicate this victory to them.
The first 24 hours were a happy daze. “Raftar” was the only word we heard. The members were shouting their lungs out. People were going crazy. We, especially the final years, were all emotional because we had seen three difficult competitions back to back. We surely teared up, too. Members you couldn’t imagine getting emotional were crying. In that moment, nothing else mattered. But when we realized we had work to do, we collected ourselves and started pushing on again.
T5E: This is the first time in the history of Raftar that the team has placed first in a competition. What do you guys have to say to the Raftar alumni out there?
Anirudh: A sincere thank you is all I can say!
T5E: There has been some speculation that Raftar is going to go electric. Any words on that?
Anirudh: That is good speculation! Yes, we are looking into the feasibility of an electric race car and we are working on the finances of it. The general perception is that going electric is a big deal, but in reality, only a fraction of the car changes while everything else remains the same. The car is made of not just the engine, but around six other subsystems and over 600 different components, each of which has its own unique design and engineering process. What is important is that these cars are neither going to be sold in the market, nor going to be held as a benchmark for green innovation. What it all boils down to is better engineering. Our main focus is that the move does not stop the flow of the team. We are definitely looking into it, but we cannot confirm anything right now.
RFR20 post the Endurance event, with their sign that reads “13000, Go Like Hell”
T5E: Raftar is well-recognized among the students of Insti. Do you think the institute supports you enough?
Anirudh: The institute has neither overly glorified us, nor denied us any support. They have supported us in all fair means possible, and it is very fortunate that they do, because I know for a fact that there are a lot of other institutes out there in the country which do not have that privilege.
T5E: A last question on behalf of the freshies looking out for openings in Raftar: is it worth all of it?
Anirudh: It is. It requires an immense amount of dedication which comes naturally for some people. And it definitely does not mean isolation from the rest of the institute. If anything, it means that you become a part of a student body bigger than yourself, which, in turn, is a part of a bigger student community in the world. For those who love motor sports or engineering, this gives form to life. I can accept that it is difficult, but at the end of the day, we are becoming better engineers and that does it for us.
T5E congratulates Raftar on this resounding victory and wishes the team the very best for your upcoming competitions and challenges. We hope you’ll thulp them all!