Whether the mention of the word “race car” conjures up mental imagery of an icy-cold dauntless Formula One driver or a group of ex-cons tuning up a sweet ride, the Auto Club at CFI has something to offer to every self-proclaimed automobile enthusiast. Today, it has grown beyond the vision of its founders to nurture students from varied years and branches, participating in a wide range of competitions such as Formula Student, SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Baja, and Shell Eco-Marathon. Also sheltering innovative projects such as the City Electric Bike, the Gyro-Bike and others, the club is now the most prolific hub for any terrestrial-vehicular engineering related activity in IIT Madras.
Formula Student is a series of prestigious race car design competitions for university students. The problem statement involves a grueling year long task of designing, formulating a business plan, and manufacturing a prototype single-seater, open-wheeled race car. The competition consists of both dynamic events (acceleration, skid-pad, brake test, autocross etc), which closely involve the performance of the car and driver, and static events such as a business presentation of the team’s marketing strategy for their prototype race car, to a hypothetical company which caters to amateur weekend racers. This format effectively tests both the students’ technical prowess and business acumen. Raftar Formula Racing (as “Team Raftar” has now fondly rechristened itself) was an abandoned project, when Arun ‘Shotgun’ Vinayak and a few of his tech-loving friends stumbled upon it. With the desire to carve out IIT Madras’ place on the global map of automotive engineering institutions, and their love for automobiles, they set about recruiting a team, selling themselves to sponsors and working their way to their debut run at the legendary Formula One Silverstone circuit under Formula Student UK, 2012.
Being the new kids on the track, it was a Herculean effort to garner enough funds and even put a car on wheels complying with the million and one competition rules. But the sincerity and passion for the project extended all the way down from their faculty advisor, Dr. A. Ramesh, to each and every member and volunteer of Team Raftar, as they tightened every last bolt and nut late into the night, before finally shipping the car off to London. During scrutineering (an overall rule compliance check) of the car at the competition, it was regrettably found that it violated a rule which had been listed as “possibly applicable in the future” in the FSAE 2012 rulebook, and had actually been implemented that year. The team was disqualified and prevented from competing in the dynamic events. But with a respectable score and ranking from merely taking part in the static events, bagging a place as one of the least expensive cars in the competition, receiving commendations on their brilliant technical design as first-year participants, and being able to gain insightful information from studying the approach of other world-class competitors, the team had little reason to be disheartened. However at the after-party that year, the team determined to themselves that they would rise up to the competition.
Once again spearheaded by Shotgun, Team Raftar underwent a transformation. The cream of last year’s team was retained and eager new blood brought in, effectively distributing efforts over the eight subsystems; powertrain, suspensions, aerodynamics, chassis, brakes, steering, cockpit and bodyworks. A closely-knit group of Raftar alumni kept a watchful eye over the team, and ensured that lessons are passed down.
The team’s strategy this year has been to design and build a race car with usable performance that can adequately be tapped by an amateur student driver. Advances include better aerodynamic modeling and a decisive change in the engine to give the best possible combination for both straights and cornering. Extensive simulations have also been done for a complete aerodynamic package, including wings, a drag reduction system (DRS) and more, for use on next year’s car. Drivability has been the key motive of every subsystem. They even measured and created accurate 3D CAD models of their drivers, to effectively work around designing by rules for average American user measurements, while only working with the more moderately built Indian student drivers. Ergonomic considerations of seat, thigh and knee angles ensured a cozy cockpit and chassis, in which one could sometimes find team members in a peaceful slumber, during late working nights at CFI. Electro-pneumatically activated paddle-shifters allow the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. In the world of fast cars, lighter has always been synonymous with faster. Heated arguments over every gram of weight addition led to a lot of parts such as uprights, differential housing, etc being custom-made. The team’s penchant for weight reduction has indeed paid off, with a drastic drop from last year’s 350 kg to a mere 220 kg.
Coming 4th in the world on a timed qualifying quiz, Raftar Formula Racing has set its course for Formula Student Germany, to be held at the famous Hockenheimring Formula One Circuit at the end of July this year. Along with the name change came a more professional approach to the work on hand. The team has been able to achieve deadlines better this time around, and has laid adequate emphasis on testing. Even taking their race car down to the iconic Madras Motorsports Race Track (MMRT) for track trials, before finally air freighting it to Germany. Attention to detail was clearly given even to non-technical issues as well, as their recognizable ‘blackbuck on wheels’ logo went from blue to red and finally back to a high definition blue. With the help of the Aakash Maddi, Raftar had managed to earn the envy of everyone with their new sponsorship brochure. Raftar Formula Racing also plans to launch its own website shortly.
There is a sense of camaraderie among these thirty people with shared passions, who have been working on this year-long project. A typical Raftar team member’s life would include plenty of treats, swearing (and being sworn at), cuts and bruises from all the sharp objects in CFI, and sightseeing tours to Parrys. Team bonding is best witnessed at the frequent trips to ECR Speedway for Go-Karting, as members frantically try to outdo their best lap times. The unrivaled title-holder for the last two years has been Anand Hariharan, a senior member of Team Raftar who just finished his M.Tech at IITM, and is now returning to work in TVS.
Every year, it is the goodbyes that are the hardest to cope with for the team, but the race must go on. With the graduation of their team leader (Arun Vinayak), their powertrain head and Raftar’s most skilled driver (Anand Hariharan) and their aerodynamics head (a Dual degree student whose middle name is ‘fluid’, Vamsi Spandan), this year would be one of the most shaking. Raftar Formula Racing has elected Rajat Tiwari, a student of Engineering Design entering into his 4th year of studies, and the chassis head for the last two years, as its new leader. Although he has big shoes to fill, Rajat has the respect and support of the entire team behind him, and has already taken charge of operations.
With a long-term hope of trying to incorporate the Formula SAE competition as part of credited academic curriculum, as it is done in many universities abroad with well renowned automotive programs, the team would need all the support they can get from the faculty and the administration of IIT Madras. Taking a step in the right direction, this year the team has worked towards building sustainable industrial relations with companies such as Fiat, Chrysler and Honda India, which extend beyond mere sponsorship and branding exchanges. Talks are already underway for members to study, design and test their own academic degree projects (B.Tech, Dual or even M.Tech) on next year’s race car. Raftar Formula Racing received wishes of good luck from Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurth (Director), Dr. L. S. Ganesh (Dean of Students), Dr. Mahesh Panchagnula (Co-Curricular Affairs Advisor) and many others who had assembled together for the official run of the race car around Gajendra Circle.
As the team and their race car leaves for Germany soon, T5E would like to wish them luck, and hope they do IIT Madras proud. We shall keep our readers updated on the competition as it progresses.