KARACHI: Creativity seldom comes without a cost. And when the object to be created is as splendid as a racing car, the cost has to be incurred in millions, an amount certainly not imaginable for students to afford.
Students of Pakistan Navy Engineering College (PNEC) - a constituent college of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) - have, however, once again achieved the seemingly impossible task. They have designed and assembled a formula racing car at their workshop at PNEC to participate this year in Formula Student - a global competition for engineering students in which students have to design and assemble a formula racing car and raise funds to do so all by themselves.
Around 28 PNEC students, divided in three teams, worked continuously for several months to get their car in final shape. An amount of Rs5 million was required for the task, which included registration for the competition, purchase, import and modification of parts, assembling the car and shipping it to Germany. Despite being engineering students who had not studied marketing or finance and who had not been trained in pitching business ideas, the PNEC students raised the whole amount themselves through sponsors.
Formula Student is organised annually by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). In 2018, it will be held in Hockenheimring in Germany. Around 65 teams from universities around the globe will be participating in the competition.
In order to enter into the event, the teams have to pass an online theoretical test that is conducted at the same time across the world.
It is not only the design of the car and its attributes such as acceleration and top speed that are judged at the event as there are separate competitions, called static events, in which top teams are announced for how best they made a presentation on the design of their car or how best they raised finances for it.
There are three static events in Formula Student in which every team can participate. However, to participate in competitions involving the car, called dynamic events, the car needs to be good enough to be allowed on the racing track. For this, every car produced by the participating teams has to undergo a technical inspection.
Once the car is approved in the technical inspection, it can compete in four dynamic events for acceleration, endurance, autocross and efficiency. There attributes are calculated individually for every car that has cleared the inspection and there is no race among competing cars.
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Not the first time
The PNEC team is one of the only two teams from South Asia that will be participating in Formula Student Germany. However, this is not the first time the NUST institute is going to be a part of the competition.
It was 2012, when a team of PNEC students represented Pakistan for the first time in Formula Student. However, the car they produced could not pass technical inspection and the students could not compete in dynamic events.
However, the PNEC students continued with zest and improved their car over successive years. Graduating batches made sure that before leaving the PNEC, they had trained a bunch of their juniors who could design and produce a better car and were able to raise the required funds. After participating in Formula Student in 2012, the engineering college qualified for the competition for three successive years, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
"I joined the team when I entered into my second year at PNEC. Our seniors briefed us about the project and made it clear that we needed to improve further for the next time," said head of the technical team Syed Salman Ahmed, while talking to The Express Tribune.
2015 was the year, the efforts of PNEC students bore fruit as the car designed by them survived the technical inspection and was allowed on the racing track to compete in dynamic events. In addition to that, the PNEC team also won a prize in one of the static events for their outstanding marketing strategy.
It was then the students decided to take a break. They aimed to win in dynamic events and for that they decided not to apply for the competition for a few years and instead focus on improving their car. "We had become the best team of South Asia and we had hit the peak. Now the idea was to take a break and do some research so that we can achieve more the next time we enter into the fray," said Hunain Bin Amir, the head of the marketing team.
Thus, during 2016 and 2017, the PNEC skipped the competition and now, being confident that they can achieve some more prestigious honour in the competition, they are all set to participate in Formula Student taking place at the Hockenheimring track near Frankfurt between August 6 and August 12.
The car was unveiled to the media on June 8, said Saif Ahmed Khan who heads the networking team. It was shipped for Germany on June 12.
"This time, we aimed to reduce the vehicle's weight," said Salman, adding that the car's top speed is around 120 kilometres (km) per hour and its acceleration goes from 0 to 100 km per hour in four seconds.
"With our new design, we aim to find a place in top 10 at the competition," Hunain asserted.
A coordinated effort
It required strenuous and coordinated efforts of around 28 students distributed in three teams and spanning over 18 months to realise the dream.
The teams included the technical team which was responsible for assembling the car, marketing team, which sought sponsors to fund the project, and networking team that was tasked with promoting the project through print and electronic media, social media and other channels. A student, Hamza Malik, led the overall project.
When asked how the marketing team was able to generate as much as around Rs5 million funds despite the fact that the students had not studied finance or marketing, Hunain replied it was all through trial and error. "It was definitely tough," he said, adding that the team had to face many disappointing experiences when sponsors backtracked from their promises.
According to the marketing team head, the team approached every possible sponsor to acquire funds and if 100 organisations were contacted, only one gave a positive response. "Why should I give you so much money? With that much amount I can have a billboard on Karsaz and it would get me more viewership," Hunain recalled one of the many potential sponsors as saying when he approached them during the course of the project.
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"The deadlines in the project were extremely important," said Salman. "If I have to complete some part in the garage by January, I need to have funds for it by that time," he said, adding that if the marketing team could not arrange finances for it, that particular part would be delayed which would delay everything in the line.
Regarding the involvement of faculty, the students replied that the competition has been designed to be entirely student-based. They, however, added that they approached their dean whenever they needed an official letter or whenever an official agreement had to be signed with sponsors.
When asked whether the project affected studies and grades of the students involved, Salman remarked that grades should not have been principally affected as the students had to study many topic and subjects beforehand to apply them on the car. However, he added that the project did hinder their studies from the examination point-of-view. "Grades kuch kuch sambhal hi jaate hain [we are somehow able to sustain our grades]," said Hunain in a jovial tone.
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