A team of students from Ain Shams University’s (ASU) Faculty of Engineering in Cairo competed head to head with students from some of the world’s top universities earlier this month and made it to some leading positions.
The ASU “racing team” as they call themselves earned first place for creating a racing car and providing the best quality at the cheapest price at the Formula Students Engineering Contest held in Silverstone in England.
Formula Student is a testing ground for engineering students, who must design and build a single-seat racing car. The car must be low in cost, easy to maintain and reliable, with high performance in terms of its acceleration, braking and handling qualities.
During the competition the teams had to demonstrate the logic behind their proposal and be able to show that it could support a viable business model.
Another part of the contest involved the presentation of a prototype, accommodating teams that are not able to enter a fully operational vehicle.
However, according to the rules of the contest the prototype must be capable of becoming a fully operational vehicle a year later.
The team representing ASU presented a very high-quality vehicle at the least possible expense in comparison with other universities in the competition.
It also earned sixth position in the marketing plan for the racing car. In the prototype section of the contest the ASU team won fourth position for the design of an electrically powered car.
Professor of engineering at ASU Sherif Essam, one of the team managers, said the team had been divided into two groups, one that worked on the racing car and the other focusing on the design of the electrical car.
“To enter the design contest, it is enough to have a preliminary prototype of the car or even a drawing, and this is what we did in an earlier competition. However, this year was the first time we presented the racing car and achieved something,” Essam explained.
“We worked on putting together the motor from scratch,” said third-year engineering student Mohamed Al-Masry, a member of the team, stressing that they had not incorporated systems from outside. He noted that in future competitions the team would work on developing an electrically powered racing car.
Essam said that the ASU racing car came 31st out of 82 universities in the overall ranking of the competition and added that the first-place ranking in the area of cost and manufacturing was achieved for the first time for any university in Africa or the Middle East.
Other competitors included the University of Edinburgh, Oxford Brookes University, the Technical University Munich, the University of the Basque Country and others.
“This was far beyond our imagination,” Essam said, referring to the results. He added that the team had aimed to use the least possible power to reach the furthest destination.
“If you are a country that depends on fuel like Egypt, you need to make use of such innovations. We managed to make one litre of fuel allow you to travel the furthest possible. Our car could go 238.5km using only one litre of petrol,” he said.
Essam talked about the possibility of adjusting existing cars using the technology, saying that “it was the main motivation of the contest to allow young engineers to create new things.”
Ain Shams University previously took part in the competition in 2012 but did not win. Formula Student is organised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, an independent professional association headquartered in London.
Despite having one of the lowest budgets among international universities, the Ain Shams University racing team did Egypt proud. It is usually easy to notice any achievement or failure but it requires digging to discover what was going on behind the scenes.
Many Egyptians were proud last week when they saw a Facebook video of young Egyptian engineers going up to the podium in a renowned competition like Formula Student UK. Al-Ahram Weekly interviewed one of the contestants to hear the story.
“First of all, we didn’t win the overall ranking in the competition as most of the media were saying,” said Mohamed Safwat, Ain Shams University racing team member, wanting to make some points clear.
The Ain Shams University racing team was divided into two groups, each competing in different classes, in the event that took place on the iconic Silverstone racing circuit from 13-15 July.
Class 1, which is the top class, included 81 universities competing from the manufacturing of a Formula racing car from scratch to the testing phase on the racing track, which tests braking, acceleration, suspension, speed and endurance.
It should be noted that only 15 cars managed to finish the endurance test including the Ain Shams University Racing Team (ASURT) car.
Class 2 is where 35 universities competed to design and draw up a plan to manufacture a car. The team was working on an electronic configuration, but in this class it didn’t have to go all the way to manufacture the car.
The team only worked on the design, cost, sustainability, and business presentation judging. They could have manufactured sample parts but this was not mandatory.
In Class 1, the team managed to capture a trophy for the best team in cost and manufacturing, and an overall final ranking of 31st place among 81 universities, the best result for an Arab and African team in the history of the competition.
In Class 2, the team took fourth place out of 35 universities, ahead of the prestigious University of Liverpool, University of Madrid, Imperial College London and Newcastle University.
“The journey started in 2011 when ASURT started, but due to the revolution the team couldn’t find enough funds to build a racing car,” said Safwat. In 2012, the team managed to build their first functioning Formula car, but they still didn’t have enough experience to compete in Class 1.
“To be able to compete in the three-day event in Formula Student UK the team had to submit academic papers and reports that have to be accepted before the team can compete.”
At that time, the team decided to enhance their experience by competing in Class 2, managing to finish 11th out of 22 universities and the first in the Middle East and North Africa.
With every building block of experience, the team continued reaching higher every year. “The meaning of the whole competition is to have every rising engineer qualify for an introductory experience to the top level in automotive engineering,” said Safwat.
The ASURT is a well organised team broken down into several departments: marketing, HR, media, and others all working to complete a high revving engine working to achieve the best results possible.
Safwat was responsible for designing the gearbox and braking system in Class 2 which was designing an electric formula car.
He talked about how all the team members with different specialisations assigned to them got to present their work to top class judges who asked questions and shared valuable experiences with the students, enriching their knowledge and opening passages for brilliant ideas.
“It’s not about grades and judging,” says Safwat, adding that from his experience the judges never pressured the students for any reason other than to bring the best out of them and to add to their knowledge in order to achieve better results in the coming years.
As there are several bumps in nearly every road in Egypt, the ASURT had to go over a few, according to Safwat. “Our car budget in Class 1 was around LE300,000, mostly collected from sponsors, while the top three teams for example got an average of one million euros.”
Safwat added that such teams build most of their car components from scratch as they have the money and manufacturing resources and materials handy while in Egypt this is not possible.
He said it was very difficult to find the right materials they needed, and with the low value of the Egyptian pound, it was impossible to import their needs.
From another angle despite some military factories sponsoring the teams by giving them access to their machines, the team still needs more factories to open their doors, but according to Safwat this might be difficult for many as they can’t afford stopping their production lines and consequently losing money.
Safwat stated that they had to import a differential for the car which had a 600cc motorcycle engine.
The differential stopped at customs for so long that the team was forced to ship the car to the UK to install the part there.
“This incident forced us to test the car for the first time in the UK, risking everything,” said Safwat who also expressed his desire that EgyptAir could sponsor the ASURT to lift a big chunk of the expenses like shipping the car for free.
Safwat said one student pays an average of LE25,000 on this trip, and the university may only refund LE5,000, which puts a lot of pressure on the students and their families and may hold up some from taking part in the competition.
On the future of his and his mates, “frankly speaking, I’d love to do my Masters and PhD in the UK after I finish and get a job there”, said Safwat, who added that this was not the common goal of his colleagues, some of whom would like to stay in Egypt.
Safwat said that Egypt at the moment needs to focus more on expanding its manufacturing resources and projects, especially in the automotive sector in order to make use of the excess number of potential and talented engineers, and that this will hopefully aid the economy, especially if Egypt manufactures cars to decrease the huge amount of imported autos.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Racing to the top