Inside the UK’s only student-run professional race team

Educating and training the next generation of engineers and mechanics is the goal of any university running a motorsport engineering degree, but the University of Wolverhampton Racing (UWR) do it with a twist. While many universities participate in Formula Student against other student-run teams, UWR’s students run a team in the F3 Cup, against other professional teams with fully qualified team members.

This is a rare occurrence and comes with significant challenges, but UWR have been determined to make it work and, so far, they have. The team have finished within the top three in the championship in all three seasons they’ve participated in and are now heading into their fourth season in the series, with even bigger ambitions for the future.

We caught up with their driver, Shane Kelly, at Autosport International to talk to him about his role within the team and the on-going preparations for 2019.

“My role has grown over the years, we’re getting into our fourth year now. We started in Formula Renault which was really a promotion year for the course; it was a great car for students to learn on. As we’ve upped our game, and as the awareness got around that we’ve got a motorsport engineering degree, we upped our game into Formula 3 [cup]. It’s a great car to engineer as a student, knowing an F3 car inside out is a brilliant thing to be able to put on your CV. We’ve got Formula Student and the Morgans as well, we’ve really gone from strength to strength as we built up.”

“Every year we get stronger in the sense of we have more data. The F3 is such a niche car, there’s so much going on with the car. The speed is in the suspension, the geometry and the damping. Engine we can quantify, we know what we’ve got. The biggest thing is the mid-corner speed and I think we got that right last season. Bad luck aside, we should’ve been at the top. More of the same from last year would be good, we were more consistent than the year before. But you can’t account for bad luck, you only have to look at Sebastian Vettel in probably the quickest car over 75% of the season and he still didn’t win it.”

Credit: Reuben Inganni

UWR face all the same challenges as any other professional race team, but they have the added element of being student-run, meaning there has to be an educational side to everything that they’re doing.

“We go the long way around everything, that’s for sure! There’s no point us going out doing races if the students didn’t remember any of it, it’s all about the student experience really, that’s why we’re here doing it. We take a bit longer because each student needs to know what they’re doing. We have a bigger team, we have 20 students for this season, and that’s a lot for one F3 car. We manage that, and I think we’re on the cusp of two cars and two championships. We do pick and choose our students, but our students chose us so it’s important that we honour each student and we’ll move them around the car as well, that’s probably the challenge we face most in keeping consistent.”

“It’s hard work to have any team of this level in a university, be it a race team, a rugby team or whatever. At the end of the day, it’s high-level industry, we’re not racing other university teams – it’s not a university championship, it’s a mainstream championship. Some universities wouldn’t touch that because it’s a lot of hard work and myself and Matt Fenton [chief race engineer], we work hard and we put a lot of hours in, but the reward is there and as most people know, you can’t stand still in racing, you need to keep getting better. As a university another thing you come across as well is funding, we’re quite strong with sponsorship with multiple sponsors, we had a breakfast meeting on Friday and sixty people, all sponsors, turned up. It’s just about keeping that up.”

As for the future, both Shane and UWR are optimistic about growing their racing programme and keeping the new projects coming in.

“We have to keep moving, keep changing and refreshing. We’re always open to ideas, different manufacturers, different championships, but that all comes at a cost. The great thing is that we own our own cars, so we can do what we like in that respect.”

To find out more about UWR, click here

[Featured image credit: Reuben Inganni]

Euro NASCAR gearing up for 2019 with new rules package

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series (NWES) is entering its seventh season in its current format, and a new rules package is set to bring the racing closer than ever while making the series more accessible to drivers, teams and fans alike. Announced in early January, the regulation change is promoting ‘pure racing’ with new tyres, suspension and aero, as well as more stringent technical inspections.

NWES has grown significantly since it first got sanctioned by NASCAR in 2012; the fan base has extended across Europe and the calibre of drivers continues to improve, making the series highly competitive.

Credit: Reuben Inganni

Only four drivers have been officially confirmed for 2019 so far, with all of them competing in the Elite 1 class. Francesco Sini and Alex Sedgwick are both returning to the series after making their debuts last season. They will be joined by Ellen Lohr, DTM’s only female race winner, and 1997 F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, both of whom are returning to racing and making their debuts in NWES.

We spoke to Alex Sedgwick at Autosport International about the series and how it differs to its American counterpart.

“The main difference is that the Euro series is mainly road courses compared to ovals. In Europe, we have a lot less ovals than in America in the first place, so we go to places like Valencia, Brands Hatch, Hockenheim and Zolder. We still do one oval this year, Venray which is in Holland. That’s the main difference really, and also the backgrounds of the drivers. I came from Clios and Ginettas, Villeneuve has come from F1 and we’ve got guys who have done Le Mans whereas in America it’s sort of NASCAR, NASCAR, dirt racing, NASCAR! It’s NASCAR with a European input, that’s the way to look at it really.”

“The NWES cars are a little lighter than the American cars with fibreglass bodies instead of steel bodies, but they’re also a little less powerful. They only have about 400 horsepower, whereas in America they’ve got 600 to 650 horsepower. Other than that, because we mainly go to road courses, the cars aren’t set up to just turn left, we’ve got a Watt’s link in the rear rather than a track bar to help it turn both directions and make it a little bit more agile. It’s not the most agile thing in the world anyway but it helps. They’re the main differences really but the basics are all exactly the same – a big 5.7 litre V8, 4-speed manual, solid rear ends, no brakes, no grip and loads of drifts, so it’s good fun!”

Credit: Reuben Inganni

Having a name like Villeneuve in the series is significant for its popularity, but he is not the first big-name driver that the NWES has attracted.

“I started last year in the series and we had Bobby Labonte (2000 NASCAR Cup champion). My teammate’s Marc Goossens (Le Mans veteran), we’ve also got Christophe Bouchut (1993 Le Mans winner) and now Villeneuve; it’s certainly a cool time to be part of NWES. It brings more credibility and attention to the series from the European side and the fact that the names that we’ve had in the series so far haven’t run away with it, they’ve struggled to get into the top five or even top ten, shows the level the championship’s at – it’s a hard series to do well in.”

One of the main aims of the new rules package, aside from improving the on-track show, was to make the series more affordable for teams and drivers – an aim that Sedgwick believes has been achieved.

“It’s well cheap! Because it’s racing, it’s still expensive but you’re going to seven different countries across Europe, racing a proper stock car in front of an average of 40,000 spectators at each round and it’s less than you’d pay to race in Ginetta Juniors in the UK. In terms of that, and for what you get out of it, it’s a bargain!”

With NWES growing as a series, the opportunities it can provide for the drivers are also increasing with the series definitely a viable route for making a career in America.

“My aim is to use this as a stepping stone to hopefully go from this to something like K&N or Trucks in America and just see what happens really. With the way the series is, and the way that it works, there’s a lot of opportunities to make that happen – it’s not like Clios in the UK where you need a lot of money to race and at the end of the year, you’re left with nothing. We’ve got prize money and the chance to win drives in America. In terms of making a career out of it, it’s quite a good place to be.”

The NWES season kicks off on the 13th April at Valencia with the rest of the calendar as follows:

April 13th/14th – Valencia, Spain
May 11th/12th – Franciacorta, Italy
June 1st/2nd – Brands Hatch, UK
June 22nd/23rdundisclosed street circuit, France*
June 29th/30th – Most, Czech Republic
July 13th/14th – Venray, Holland
September 21st/22nd – Hockenheim, Germany
October 5th/6th – Zolder, Belgium

*non-championship

 

[Featured image credit: Reuben Inganni]