In this interview I had an interesting discussion with Konstantinos Alexopoulos, BPP and Marketing Chief in Prom Racing Team in Athens, Greece. This team belongs to the National Technical University of Athens and participates in student formula competitions. Before the interview, Mr Alexopoulos considered that is necessary for the readers, to share some important information regarding the formula student competitions.
What is the Formula Student Competition?
According to Mr Alexopoulos, the Formula Student competition was established three decades ago by the Society of Automotive Engineers) in the United States of America. Today, 10 major competitions, which are held annually around the world, certify the success of this priceless experience. Groups of students from the best universities in the world commit to study, design and manufacture a prototype formula-type racing car in one or two academic years. As in any race category, the Formula Student institution falls under a number of technical and non-technical restrictions. Safety regulations of the vehicle are really important, so students have the opportunity to try a wide range of design ideas and projects.
The nature of the competition is such that it requires creativity and innovation from the students in order to become competitive against the prestigious teams of the institution. The high point of the whole procedure are the competitions themselves, each one of which lasts for days. These competitions do not just include racing, as it typically happens in motorsport events. On the contrary, they are structured so as to test each group in different areas related to engineering design, manufacturing, project financial viability and of course performance, the combination of which will judge the winning team and car. This competition has now evolved into a first-rate educational event and attracts senior mechanical engineers, business and marketing managers every year, who have international prestige and high professional insightfulness in identifying the truly innovative idea.
How did the idea come up? How many members are there in today’s team?
“Prom Racing Team was founded in 2008 by 5 NTUA (National Technical University of Athens) students, who were passionate about applied engineering-mechanics and motorsport. Even at their first year of participation they managed to get the 1st place in Class 3 at the 2008 FSAE in Italy. Today, the team is way bigger than it was at its first year, as it consists of 65 members and each one of them works on one of its 6 departments.”
How many scientific areas are within the team and what are the most critical for its vision and goal?
“As aforementioned, the team consists of 6 departments, which are the following: Design & Manufacturing, Vehicle Dynamics, Electronics, Aerodynamics, Logistics and Marketing. All of them are extremely important for the team and play a significant role in its success, but as motorsport in general and formula student competitions as well follow an electric approach, the department of Electronics is becoming of a bit bigger importance, especially now that Prom Racing has entered the electric vehicles era. For our smooth transition to an electric racing car, the mechanical and manufacturing knowledge that has been gained in the recent years was crucial.”
What technology do you use in terms of design and production? (Programs, Software, CAD / CAM) Does the team have the right equipment?
“On a daily basis, we use a big variety of software and programs that either NTUA or sponsors provide us with. For example, we use such programs and software in order to simulate the behaviours of an electronic circuit, the motor and the inverter. Another example, of how important these tools are for us, is that the manufacturing department uses software to convert a 3D design into code, so that we won’t waste any materials when manufacturing a part of the car. Generally, most of the work we do requires the use of reliable software and programs. NTUA not only provides us with some of these tools, but it also gives us access to expensive machines that are crucial for the design, the analysis and the manufacturing of our vehicle (e.g. 4-axis Okuma CNC, Haas CNC Minimill, Cluster Database and Pinacho Lathe).”
What are the difficulties faced and how are they addressed or overcome?
“As a student team, the biggest challenge we need to cope with is the funding of our project. Designing, analysing and most importantly manufacturing a racing car based on a formula is a very expensive activity. Thankfully, we manage to gather a significant number of resources and for that we are grateful to all our sponsors, donors and supporters, especially to our platinum sponsors Protergia, Aktor, Global Prep and Bosch Hellas and our platinum donor, Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). But, despite the fact that their support is of great value, every year we compete against teams that have a lot more resources than we do and that makes a difference in the design of the car. Some other difficulties are for example the daily management of such a big team and of course the effect that COVID-19 has on the way we operate, but we have managed to get through this difficult period without any COVID-19 cases.”
What is the ultimate goal and vision of the team?
“Our vision is to first of all continue to create value for the student community and NTUA by providing talented and passionate students with opportunities to further develop their skills. As of our ultimate goal, we’d say that it would be to design and manufacture the best electric, and one day driverless, vehicle on the Formula Student most demanding competitions. We have consistently proven that we have the human capital needed for that and we are working on getting the necessary resources as well.”
What is the team’s vision for the future?
We strongly believe that the future of Prom Racing is bright. This year’s vehicle will be our first ever electric and the data we have extracted from the first period of testing are very promising. So, we plan on continuing to create reliable electric vehicles and to enter the driverless category as well in the coming years. Our main goal is to keep ranking in the first 10 places in the three most demanding formula student competitions and eventually get the 1st place overall in these events.