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Updated: July 13, 2011 16:07 IST

From the lab to the tracks

VINODH KUMAR
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The team from PSG College, Coimbatore, with their F1 car prototype. Photo: Special Arrangement
The team from PSG College, Coimbatore, with their F1 car prototype. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dreaming of a F1 car is one thing, but trying to build one from scratch is a whole new learning experience.

The Maruti Suzuki Supra SAEINDIA event is perhaps a first-of-its-kind challenge for student engineers: to build a prototype of not just any car, but a Formula-1 car. Yes! The same sports car that we have all fantasised about when we saw Michael Schumacher or Felipe Massa zipping past in their red Ferraris.

Laying the foundation

Initially our team of 20 exuded confidence, as we had honed our design skills by participating in another challenge in 2009. But thise competition demanded something more!

The realisation that this challenge was not just a test of design skill but was all about building an actual sports car meant that even the slightest deviation from the prescribed specifications could endanger the driver! We shuddered at that very thought. Eager to overcome the fear, we started our preparation.

The entire process of modelling the car - as per the safety standards (120 pages) that the organisers shared with us - took us one year; a year of sleepless nights, sheer determination and a year spent in the laboratory with the steering wheel, brake systems et al.

Intense team work and efforts went into making it right; this was all that mattered every moment. We kickstarted our efforts by dividing our team into three groups: Marketing, Designing and Fabrication. Each of the teams would work towards achieving the goal as per the deadline. The project was thus an ideal recipe with an ounce of trust and co-operation exchanged throughout.

The project's total budget including the engine - which had to be ideally imported from international markets - was estimated to around Rs. 7,00,000! The figure made our heart grow heavy.

However, timely assistance from Maruti Suzuki with their Maruti 800 engine slashed our budget by around Rs. 2,00,000 in addition to financial support from the Coimbatore-based Roots Group. In addition, Maruti Suzuki engineers also constantly mentored and guided us.

Our guide, Dr.P. Sadagopan, made a huge impact by leading the whole team towards discipline and a structured communication pattern. After a hectic schedule of classes from morning till evening, we would start working in our lab by 5.00 p.m. and continue through the night till the next morning.

The professor would wake us up daily from a sound sleep demanding attendance at the laboratory. Though we protested initially, our agitation gradually waned and our sleeping pattern changed from eight hours to a minimum of two hours, a month before the competition. A strong focus and tremendous team work by both juniors and seniors made all of us able to cope with the circumstances.

Testing waters

While the teams struggled to make their cars fit is the stage when the learning began. Fiinally 33 cars could go on track with the help of SAE officials, industry volunteers and the Maruti team.

The Maruti Supra SAE challenge not only gave us a good exposure of project management, team work, delegation and leadership development but also sensitised us to the practical side of engineering thus bringing us closer to the industry.

Vinodh is the Captain of the Pegasus team from PSG College of Engineering, Coimbatore, which won 2nd place in the Maruti Supra SAE Challenge 2011 held in Sriperumbudur recently.


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