Lift off: the winning team with Brian, their electric car

Five years ago a team of girls from Sandbach High School in Cheshire built a racing car using the old aluminium wall bars from the school gym. This year, the school’s entry in the IMechE Greenpower electric car races is a high-tech vehicle called Brian, incorporating a lightweight, honeycomb carbon-fibre chassis with a ground clearance of 20mm, and a top speed of 40mph. Brian romped home in the regional heats, held at the Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northants, having covered over 104 miles, the 71 laps involved punctuated by highly organised battery changes and pit stops.

The team, which consists of 25 girls who meet every Tuesday evening, has gained a wide range of skills in the process, from computer modelling, welding and aluminium soldering to fundraising and presentation skills (the team are also seasoned presenters at motorsports events and television programmes, it seems). Best of all, according to teacher and team leader Alan Beardmore, has been the impact on the numbers of girls studying engineering. “We currently have 26 students taking GCSE engineering,” says Beardmore. “We have already had one team member gain an apprenticeship in engineering, another an offer from Cambridge to study engineering and five have gained the prestigious Arkwright Scholarship in engineering.”

Emily Wakeford, a former team member now on her way to study engineering at Cambridge, says she wouldn’t have considered engineering as an option without the Greenpower experience. “It’s been amazing,” says Wakeford. “The races are a fantastic way to meet new people and take part in a unique event.”

IMechE Greenpower is a new partnership established to offer schools an insight into sustainable transport and careers in engineering as they design, build and race their own eco-race cars. Each entrant is issued with a standard 24-volt electric wheelchair motor and four 12-volt car batteries. The cars compete in a series of six-hour endurance races at motor circuits around the country, ahead of the national final in October at Goodwood Motor Circuit.

There is also a primary school project called Goblins, which involves racing a fixed-speed kit car, while Formula 24+ is a category for 16- to 21-yearolds, which allows for cars of greater length with more aerodynamics.

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