With the Kew House School Formula 24 project completing its fourth season and second as a fully functional racing outfit, the quest to qualify for a second successive international final continued in September.
It is accurate to say the Formula has moved on over the previous 12 months. Performances are improving and with the kit car category swelling, the standards required to achieve a final place are higher than in previous years.
Team Kew House had endured a difficult summer; reliability issues had impacted upon the ability of the team to complete race duration, students were still unsure as to the gear ratio that would yield the greatest performance and tyre choice was heavily debated. Having only managed to cover 11km during the final meeting before the summer break at Castle Coombe, the team returned in September with two final opportunities to reach the 28.8km target that would seem to qualify the team for the international final at Silverstone.
The first meeting was on September 8th at Bedford Autodrome. This coincided with the first week of school, resulting in senior team members returning from a long and pleasant summer only to be thrust into several stress-laden late-night attempts to transform the car into a machine capable of qualification.
A long journey back to the pits revealed an issue with the wiring connecting the battery, and new wires were added to the circuit.
For this first meeting, the focus was on replacing tyres and improving the structure of the team during race day. Several team meetings were held to better define specific roles within the team. Our Year 11 students agreed to take on senior roles within the team, each taking responsibility for younger members. Our quickest drivers, largely determined by weight, were pre-selected and come race day, the car arrived at Bedford with new tyres, a gear ratio of 14/54 (higher than we had previously run) and a pit crew that had a renewed focus.
Unfortunately, the first practice session did not go to plan. Shortly after starting, the first pit-stop resulted in the car failing to move once stationary. A long journey back to the pits revealed an issue with the wiring connecting the battery, and new wires were added to the circuit. The car returned to the track for the final part of practice. The suspicion at this point was that the gear ratio might not yield the greatest level of efficiency required to ultimately maximise the team’s distance travelled, as the speed of the car was decreasing in the short amount of time the car ran on the track.
The first race began positively, but part way through, disaster struck; the car broke down on the back straight. A problem with the motor resulted in the chain coming off and causing some damage to the chain cover. The team decided to return the car to the garage and begin the long task of changing the gear ratio. Team members had calculated that a lower ratio of 16/72 would give the car a greater chance of running at a consistent speed for the full duration of a race (90 minutes) without the batteries running out of charge. Changing the length of the chain, the sprockets attached to the rear axle and the motor and final checks on the car resulted in the team getting out onto the track with minutes to spare before the start of race 2. However, the race was a huge success. The team managed to run for the full 90 minutes – the first time this had been achieved for several months – with a speed that was fairly consistent. The overall distance covered was 27.1km, a fantastic achievement. This was only 1.7km short of the distance required for qualification to the international final.
The team managed to run for the full 90 minutes – the first time this had been achieved for several months.
The second and final opportunity to qualify for the international final was the following weekend at Dunsfold Park. The mood of the team had changed from one that was happy to participate, and gain experience the week previously to one that felt it had a realistic goal of qualifying for the final at Silverstone.
The week between the two meetings had been relatively calm in comparison to the week before. New batteries had been purchased, fully charged and fitted. Concerns existed that the batteries might need several specific charge cycles to reach their full potential (a concept known as ‘battery training’), but it was felt that they were still able to perform better than the older batteries. Electronics had also been developed and the car was fitted with a new steering wheel that contained a display showing speed.
The practice session allowed the team to run the car without too many issues. Every student got an opportunity to drive the car and the focus was on learning the track, rather than maximising the distance. Unfortunately, the second race did not go to plan and the car failed to get away from the start line. This was a huge blow and the team feared that past reliability issues were going to strike again. Once the car was lifted back to the pit, we discovered that there was a problem with the wiring, as at the previous event. This was incredibly frustrating, and this meant that all hopes were pinned on the final race.
All of us had been on an incredible journey, sharing two weeks of late nights, 5am Sunday get-ups and 14-hour race days.
The car didn’t return to the track in time for the end of race 1 but was on the start line for race 2. With the team fully focused and the three lightest drivers selected to race, all team members were focused on squeezing as much performance from the car as possible. The race began extremely well and after the first pit stop, the team were on track to complete the 29km required to qualify. At the halfway point, the team were still on target, but as the race continued the pace of the car began to decrease; the batteries were beginning to drop off and the fear was the we would run out of time to complete the required distance. Unfortunately, the team’s fears were to be realised when the race ended with 28.1km completed – an agonising 700m short of the target.
The team spirit at the end was, surprisingly, very upbeat. I think all the team members felt incredibly proud of their efforts and knew that they could have done no more. All of us had been on an incredible journey, sharing two weeks of late nights, 5am Sunday get-ups and 14-hour race days and by the end of it, although exhausted, the team felt incredibly close. Ultimately Kew House did not qualify, but the project had progressed, and everyone had an enormous amount of fun contributing, including several parents, whose support was greatly appreciated.
The team now moves with an influx of new members and begins to plan for next season. On the agenda is continuing to develop the current car by look at the aerodynamic package, the material used on the bodywork and the best gear ratio to run, not to mention improvements to battery performance and data collection. There is also the small matter of a Formula 24+ car to build in preparation for our Year 11 members becoming post-16 racers next year.
It will be a busy winter at the F24 club.