Formula SAE Engineers make their mark with FPR October 30, 2003 - As Ford Performance Racing's (FPR) V8 Supercar debut has displayed, considerable engineering resources exist within this three BA Falcon V8 Supercar team. A so far untold success...
Formula SAE Engineers make their mark with FPR
October 30, 2003 - As Ford Performance Racing's (FPR) V8 Supercar debut has displayed, considerable engineering resources exist within this three BA Falcon V8 Supercar team. A so far untold success story in this regard can be found in the recruitment of a number of the team's race engineers directly from their involvement in the Formula SAE Championship.
The Formula SAE Championship was established as a motor racing based engineering competition for Universities across Australia and the world to compete in, using an established criterion of vehicle design, power and weight, as per all Formula categories.
Craig Lowndes' Race Engineer - Des Conway, 24, and Glenn Seton's Race Engineer Derek Powell, 25, were both introduced to the Formula SAE project during the late stages of their relative engineering degrees at the University of Wollongong (NSW) in July 2000.
For Conway and Powell, the Formula SAE motorsport based engineering project provided the perfect topic for the thesis requirement of their courses, Conway electing to base his thesis on suspension dynamics and Powell specialising in engine induction and exhaust systems.
Formula SAE competition is based on time trial and performance based events using control 600cc engines and a lightweight, spaceframe chassis. The Formula SAE car engineered by Conway and Powell's team could reach a top speed of 160 kph, accelerating from 0-100 kph in 3.8 seconds. The objective of the project was to ensure consistency in performance from the simple an lightweight design, relying on engineering innovation and constant development to gain every possible advantage. This presented an excellent experience base from which to progress to professional motor racing engineering careers.
Conway and Powell's debut season was highlighted by finishing just behind the top United States based Formula SAE team. By the season's end, they became the most successful first year team to date in the car they christened as the Steel City Racer. The team went on to dominate the Australian class during their second season in 2002. That year also saw Conway and Powell head to the United States to compete in the Formula SAE World Championship against 118 other Universities, finishing 21st overall and taking the Top Rookie Team honours.
Upon their return to Australia and the completion of their studies, Powell immediately sought a position within V8 Supercar racing, willing to work at any level to continue a motor racing engineering career path. Peter Doulman gave the young engineer a chance and he commenced working on his Konica Series V8 Supercar. This brought him to the attention of Larry Perkins who then took on Powell for a three month period before his resume came to the attention of Ford Performance Racing Chief Engineer John Russell.
Conway worked with a consulting company in Wollongong for six months before hearing about the launch of FPR through motor racing contacts, managing to meet with John Russell and join the team with his former Formula SAE team co-leader.
Within three months Conway worked alongside his FPR team mates to support Craig Lowndes' in gaining his first overall V8 Supercar round victory in a Ford and the maiden victory for this new team in the CAT FPR BA Falcon V8 Supercar. Within six months two more podium finishes were gained (second places) and the ultimate achievement so far was his involvement in Lowndes and Seton's second place effort at Bathurst in October.
"I was initially employed as a vehicle dynamics engineer working on all three cars, but Craig didn't have a race engineer so John Russell asked me to do the job. I was surprised that John had the confidence in me to take on that role at such an early stage and I feel very privileged to have taken part in the team's first win and our three further podium finishes, especially Bathurst. Telling Craig that he had won the race at Phillip Island over the radio was pretty cool - I could easily get used to that," Conway said.
Powell's debut effort was also remarkable - working with the FPR crew to ensure that Glenn Seton was able to compete for significant Championship points in the team's older AU Falcon V8 Supercar, then progressing to work on the development of the team's second BA Falcon together with one of the most experienced and accomplished drivers in the business.
"I was impressed that John (Russell) had the confidence to give me this position. There is no doubt that I was nervous about working with Glenn given his vast experience and my lack of it - but this was not an issue from the moment I met and worked with him. I'm sure that Des would agree that we are working with some outstanding people here at FPR and the adrenalin level is high given the team's debut season achievements."
There is no doubt that these FPR Race Engineering appointments reflect the status that the Formula SAE program has gained within the global motor racing engineering fraternity, providing practical mechanical, aerodynamic and geometry specific motor racing experience to a new breed of talented young and enthusiastic engineering graduates.
"When forming the engineering side of FPR I made a deliberate policy of trying to recruit a backbone of experienced staff but also a core group of bright individuals who would be able to think outside the established square and grow with the team through it's trials, successes and failures to provide a vital and exciting engineering strength for the long term," FPR Chief Engineer John Russell said.
"Despite lacking experience in the highly competitive V8 Supercar Championship arena, these individuals have applied themselves with admirable determination, they have been resilient through the predictable knocks and disappointments, and are starting already to establish themselves in their own right. This is a business where you never stop learning, but also one where you sometimes have to make the mistakes to see a different path. Harnessing and integrating our complement of youth and experience through the next leg of the climb will make us capable of the assault on the summit," he added.
Des Conway and Derek Powell were recently joined at FPR by two further Formula SAE Championship colleagues, Clinton Wilson (Design and Data Engineer) and Ben Hitchcock (Electronics and Software Engineer).
The team's engineering personnel also includes experienced engineers Jamie Augustine (Electronics and Data Engineer) and Dave Paterson (Dave Besnard's Race Engineer).