AS YOU read this, final year students across CSAD will be busily working on their respective theoretical and practical based final year projects. The same applies to two 22-year-old Advertising and Media students, Michael Babs-Apata and Jonathan Mwambingu. The success of their project could potentially influence the success of the Coventry University Racing Team with whom they have joined forces.
The story begins in the first quarter of last year when Babs-Apata and Mwambingu put their names forward to Coventry University’s motorsport development officer, Dave Williams, asking if they could help promote a student team planning on entering the 24-hour ‘Brit Car’ endurance event at Silverstone Race Circuit. Williams and the team accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Following initial discussions, marketing became the responsibility of Babs-Apata and Mwambingu, assigned with securing satisfactory sponsorship deals and adequate levels of media exposure prior to Phoenix Racing’s competitive ‘Formula Student’ debut at Silverstone in July.
This sharing of responsibilities allowed each member of the 10 man team to not only focus on developing each of the two cars, but at the same time make the necessary logistical arrangements to ensure their competitive presence at the Milton Keynes venue in the summer.
Over the coming weeks, work will move up another gear as Babs-Apata, Mwambingu and the entire Phoenix Racing team make the short twelve mile trip north of Coventry to Mallory Park near Leicester. Besides taking promotional pictures of the team and two cars, essential pre-race testing of the latter will be conducted to collect necessary performance data on each.
This will be achieved by linking a laptop to each car’s Emerald Engine Control Unit (ECU). Up until recently, the team has been heavily reliant on engine simulation software to build virtual engine models. The software relies on dynamic equations to calculate the set-up of the car’s combustion system, and the real-world performance this potentially generates.
Before then, however, Babs-Apata and Mwambingu will continue to work on raising the team’s profile through promotional leaflets, sponsorship packs, print and video illustrations, and remain optimistic that they can re-configure the team’s current website, too.
And as is the case with all final year projects, Babs-Apata and Mwambingu have been in regular contact with their final year tutor, John Keenan, who, according to Babs-Apata, “has been very supportive” of their idea and the manner in which they have approached it.
He said: “John was quite surprised that we had gone off and found a client within Coventry University. He has been very supportive in terms of putting us in touch with suitable contacts and helping us develop ideas.
“When we have taken ideas to him, he has given us the advertising perspective, where we are going wrong and where we need to improve. When we’ve progressed, he wants to see how we’ve progressed, and what we’ve done so that he can help us take it to the next level.”
We have been trying to stay ahead of the game and outwit the competition; we want silverware
Approximately £3 – £4,000 needs to be raised, “which although sounds a lot, isn’t on the same scale as the Brit Car project where £25,000 had to be raised”, explains Mwambingu. Raising money in the current economic climate will be a test of their ingenuity and mettle, but neither appears fazed.
Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki, and Kawasaki have all been big name casualties of the financial squeeze, all of whom postponing – temporarily at least – their participation in world motorsport, on two wheels and four. Many teams are beginning to realise to their detriment that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to secure sponsorship than it is to develop a reliable and competitive race machine.
The outlook of securing sponsors for Phoenix Racing may be equally bleak, but Babs-Apata and Mwambingu are hopeful that their collaboration with the team, their respective contacts and existing sponsors, namely Snap-On, ATL and Caparo brakes to name but three will pay dividends when they take to the track.
And although promotion and sponsorship is important, both students believe there is a far greater market to be tapped into, with Babs-Apata adding: “We hope our promotion raises the team’s profile and awareness, not just for sponsors, but for people like us who didn’t necessarily have that much interest in motorsport.
“Of course we want sponsors, but they have to have a real interest in motorsport, otherwise they can easily pull out on us as they have done in Formula 1. It has to be something our sponsors have a passion and enthusiasm for, so that even when things aren’t going right, they will remain involved.”
They openly admit to not having had any previous interest in motorsport prior to their involvement with Phoenix Racing, but having the opportunity to influence each of the cars in some way has given them a greater sense of passion and enthusiasm for motor racing in general. Mwambingu referred to the live project as “a little baby being born, seeing it progress from the workshop to the race track”.
And talking to 21-year-old Martin Rushmere at the University’s Alma building where Phoenix Racing is based, he admits that having the two advertising students on board has been a huge advantage. “Hopefully we will see the benefits when we get the promotional material in the public domain, because some of the ideas that have been coming across have been really impressive. Hopefully it will generate much more interest and hopefully more revenue.
“When we go to Mallory Park, the money Jonathan and Michael have generated will then be plumbed back into the project for the development of it so that we can turn up at Silverstone in July and have a really strong car. Having put in a lot of effort from the beginning of term, we want to turn up and put on a performance,” he revealed.
From Computer Aided Design (CAD) to race-ready car, Rushmere estimates that it will have taken 800 to 1,000 man hours with a budget of £7,000 to £8,000 in total. Costs, however, have been kept reasonably low, with a number of parts having been custom made, such as the camshaft, exhaust, and engine inlets.
The engine – costing a mere £300 – has been lifted from a Honda CBR 600 motorbike which produces 100bhp in normal guise, but has been re-tuned to produce a lower power output of 70-80bhp which in turn allows for greater in-car acceleration and a more flexible torque curve. And as the car and driver’s combined weight is approximately 300Kg, the 0-60mph dash is dispatched in around 5 seconds, before going on to a top speed of 80mph.
Rushmere and the team have given themselves the target of having the car ready for testing by Easter. Failing that, they will conclude work on the project, but as a collective they remain adamant that having invested wisely in time, money and expertise, they will see their driver, 22-year-old Thomas Snowball compete for honours at the student event.
He said “We have been trying to stay ahead of the game and outwit the competition; we want silverware. Of course, people have high hopes and we are trying to live up to them. It is hard work, but we hope it will all be worth it. Having created a working car from scratch in 9 months on top of coursework has already impressed a lot of people.”
Formula Student is a yearly competition organised and promoted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and aims to challenge but equally reward students for their many months of developmental highs and lows. Not only does the competition promote excellence in engineering, it also teaches competing teams the skills of design, marketing, and proper management of time, finances and personnel.
Since its inception more than a decade ago in 1998, the popularity of the Student Formula has continued to grow, with awards on offer from Honda, Toyota, Airbus and Shell. University teams from across the UK, mainland Europe, America, Asia and Australia will all be entering the competition. Race weekend will be Saturday 18th to Sunday 19th July.
Images courtesy of Phoenix Racing and Jason Craig
- Further information on Phoenix Racing can be found on their website by clicking here.