Formula SAE-A reflections

Formula SAE-A weekend always holds a special place in my heart, but this year’s event was by far my favourite to date. 

The 2019 Business Event judging team. Photo taken by

The competition between the teams was fierce and the EV teams are making leaps and bounds each year, developing more reliable and more competitive cars. Close to half of this year’s field was EVs, a marked increase from just a few years ago. And, who knows, maybe within the next five years, the committee is able to make the call to have two independent events each standing proud with what they have to offer. 

Each year, the students’ vision for the future of engineering and automotive capabilities continue to grow. Two teams displayed their autonomous, self-driving cars, with a view to maybe creating an autonomous Formula SAE-A class in the not too distant future.

Even though Monash took out both overall IC and EV class wins, there were some standout teams that gave Monash a real run for their money. Most notably for me, RMIT Electric Racing with an 0.04.88 Skidpad time, the fastest out of any EV or IC and the University of Auckland placing first in the Presentation Event, breaking a long-standing history of near misses for our Kiwi friends. Monash no doubt is a dedicated, hard-working team and deserve every accolade, but it’s nice to see other teams knocking on their door.

The Career Expo was another huge success, attracting local, regional and international firms to network and meet with our soon-to-be engineering and business graduates. Providing this link to industry is such an important part of Formula SAE-A and I hope that it continues to grow each year.

On a personal level, this year was one of many firsts for me.

It was my first time as part of the organising committee working alongside the other committee members to bring the event to life. It was my first time as an Event Captain, running the Business Presentation event from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed working with the other judges and the conversations that took place after each presentation. 

Last year, a number of improvements were made to the running of the Presentation Event and I’m looking forward to taking on board the feedback from this year to continue to elevate it. 

My absolute highlight was interviewing legendary F1 aerodynamicist, Willem Toet and his wife, Sue. The wind didn’t do us any favours, but for my first ever on-camera interview, I’m pretty chuffed with the result. 

I also loved speaking with the students and learning more about their roles within their teams and how they are planning to use this experience once they graduate.

The weekend culminated in an epic all-team photo and the awards presentation where we had the chance to recognise the hard work put in by all of the teams.

Taking the time to reflect on the last few months in the lead up to Formula SAE-A 2019, I remember being on my team while at uni thinking that one day I’d like to be more involved with the event. It was by happy chance two years ago that I was introduced to someone who could make that a reality. 

I love this event and everything it stands for. It’s an equal platform for men and women to showcase their talents and abilities. It’s a place where students from all disciplines can gain hands-on experience in project management, leadership, business and engineering skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.  

While I’m very much enjoying some downtime, I’m already looking forward to 2020.

Any opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Formula SAE-A. 

Highs and lows at Retro Round for Jack Smith

I spent this year’s Supercars Sandown 500 Retro Round doing social media for the Brad Jones Racing Super 2 Series #21 car of Jack Smith. I put together a short wrap of the weekend for the team and wanted to repurpose it for myself.

It was a weekend of mixed conditions and mixed results for Jack Smith in the #21 SCT Motor Sport Team Commodore.

Friday – Practices 1 and 2

Friday’s practice results did not go the way Jack Smith had hoped to mark his opening laps of the weekend at the Penrite Oil Sandown 500. Running in the top 8 for the first half of Practice 1, Jack got into a bit of trouble during the session triggering two red flags. 

Unfortunately, Practice 2 unfolded in much the same way as Practice 1, resulting in a small drop down the order from the Practice 1 finish when the chequered flag flew. 

Finishing 7th with a 1:09.30 in Practice 1, and 10th with a 1:09.11 in Practice 2, the team looked to make some set up changes to improve their position going into Saturday’s qualifying session.

Saturday – Qualifying

What had hoped to be a promising start to Saturday’s qualifying, ended with disappointment. The team had made some changes to try to come back from Friday’s lacklustre results. However, the gains they were looking for didn’t eventuate. 

Throughout most of the 15-minute session, Jack was sitting in the top 8 when he locked a wheel and speared into the infield halfway through the session. Unable to recover, Jack finished in P13 with a best time of 1:09.15.

Saturday – Race 1

It was a wet and wild start to the first race of the weekend with about half the field, including Jack, opting for a change to wet tyres just moments before the green flag. The last-minute change proved fruitful, with Jack ultimately crossing the finish line in P2.

“Most people were on wets, but maybe five cars were on slicks, and they ended up having to pit during the safety car and change to wet. Without the team making the decision, we would have been in a lot more strife.”

Jack Smith

However, contact with Matt Chahda early in lap one resulted in a 15-second time penalty levied against Jack.

The only safety car of the race was triggered on lap 18 when Brenton Grove speared off into the grass due to contact with another car and hit the wall at Turn 3.

Resuming at lap 15, the now time-certain race saw more spins and offs from several competitors as well as increasingly wet conditions.

The shortening of the race combined with the 15-second penalty relegated Jack back to 9th place.

Sunday – Qualifying

The grey, but dry skies made for a much better start to the day than Saturday. Super2 Series qualifying was the first session on track, paving the way for the rest of the day’s events.

The time to beat, a 1.09.02, was set early by Ash Walsh. The majority of the field, including Jack, opted to pit midway through the session. 

With two minutes left, Jack set his first representative lap, jumping to 6th, before quickly being bested and falling down the order to 9th, finally finishing in P13 with a 1.09.00, six-tenths off the pole sitter, Image Racing’s Jordan Boys.

Sunday – Race 2

In stark contrast to Saturday’s race, Race 2 started sunny and dry. Running a similar set up to yesterday, Jack and the team were looking to capitalise on the gains they made from their setup tweaks going into Saturday’s race and come back from the less than ideal qualifying position. 

The session start was delayed due to a crash in the earlier Toyota 86 session. Even though the delay caused the race to go time certain, all 22 laps were completed.

Unfortunately, Jack had a bit of trouble during the start, and he dropped back to 15th just off the line. Struggling to drive a car he wasn’t entirely happy with; he managed to recover three spots to finish in 12th.

“It was a terrible race from the start. The car wasn’t as I’d like it and I wasn’t driving as I like to. There aren’t many positives from today.”

Jack Smith

Jack finishes the weekend 7th in series points with 890 points, 746 adrift from the series leader, Bryce Fullwood. Catch the Super2 Series for their final round of the year at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 from 22-24 November.

Five years of FSAE-A

UTS Motorsport electric

December is a time where my newsfeed is full of comp results, congratulations and reflections of the FSAE-A year that was. Teams are either rejoicing in their success or committing to regroup and come back swinging the following year. Some just want to share the mountains of photos that they took during the year but never posted, providing a year-long snapshot that you can flick through in a couple of minutes.

The cycle is always the same, as the competition gets closer, teams start posting more – testing videos, photos of parts being manufactured, a group working on their static presentations. Just as quickly as the content ramps up, so too it starts to fade. In only a few short months, maybe even less for some teams, the cycle begins all over again, because December 2019 really isn’t that far away.

It’s now well past FSAE-A 2018, and the photo galleries and videos have slowed down as students acclimate to normal life. The first few weeks post comp is a glorious time for teams. For a little while, the deadlines are behind them. They can go to bed at a reasonable time and get a full night’s sleep – something that probably didn’t happen much during the lead up to the second weekend of December.

It’s the reflection posts that I like the most. While it’s good to celebrate your achievements, if you don’t stop to think about where you can from then you can’t appreciate where you are now. It’s these posts that inspired me to write this. It’s been five years since my first, and only, FSAE-A as a competitor and so much of what I’ve done since 2013 has been directly shaped by those 18 months.

If it weren’t for UTS Motorsports, I wouldn’t have started volunteering with Supercars. I wouldn’t have met some of the most hardworking and dedicated people I know, who I’m lucky to call my friends. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to be involved with the Bathurst 12 Hour, RX Aus or the Australian Motor Racing Series (AMRS).

I think I’ve written about this before, but when I think back to when I first stepped on to the track at Werribee, I can still feel the excitement I felt and the moment of, ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’

So much of that week is a blur, but the things I do remember are etched into my memory forever.

The sadness we felt when we thought the engine was cooked on Saturday after the first dynamic events and then the exhilaration when it came back to life.

How confident I was going into Business Presentation, and how deflated I felt when we only came sixth.

The exhaustion of pulling together Design documentation until the early hours of the morning, and the relief when it was all done.

Teaching Sylvie how to drive manual through the dormitory carpark. The whole team staying in a dorm with two other university’s teams. Everyone working together to get shit done and hoping for the best outcome at the end of the weekend.

Even now I miss that. Walking through the pits at Winton in 2018, I wished, just for a second, to be able to go back and do it all over again.

I joined UTS Motorsports my first year of uni. I wanted to be involved and feel like I belonged to something. My first two-and-a-bit years of college in the States were not what I had always hoped they would be.

When I started at UTS, I promised myself that I would have the university experience I always wanted and would make my studies more of a priority than I made them before.

I had never heard of Formula SAE before finding the UTS team on the university’s website. I knew nothing about it other than you got to build a race car and compete against other universities at the end of the year. I reached out to the team, not really sure what I could offer since I struggle to add 2+2 most days and to build something like a car, I imagined, required a lot of math.

Luckily for me, they needed business students.

I dropped into the workshop a few days before classes started in 2013, and they couldn’t get rid of me for the rest of the year.

If you’re not familiar with the competition format, there are four dynamic and three static events designed to test the students’ understanding of everything that goes into making a competitive race car. One of those events is a Shark Tank-style presentation where you have 10 minutes to pitch your business model and car design to a panel of investors to convince them to give you money to bring your concept to life.

I only attended one comp as a member of my team.

There were a lot of team members graduating or who had made the decision to not be active members of the team the following year due to final projects and other academic commitments the following year and nothing was quite the same. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and until that point, I had always been someone who just kept going and didn’t know when to give in, even if the situation was no longer a healthy or positive one. Leaving in the middle of the year was a tough decision because I felt like I was letting the team, and myself down.

I made some great friends in 2013 and had to learn to separate the two things – the friendships would still be there even if the team weren’t. That was probably the most challenging lesson to learn because would we still be friends without the team in common? The relationships did change, but the friendships never went away.

I flitted in and out of FSAE-A for the next few years. I attended a few comps as a spectator to cheer on UTS Motorsports as they changed from combustion to electric and settled into the new location at Calder Park.

At the end of 2017, thanks to a random series of events, I was introduced to someone who helps organise the Presentation event. We kept in touch over the coming months, and when it was time to start pulling together volunteers for 2018, I jumped at the chance to judge the Presentation event.

The calibre of the presentations and the effort that went into putting them together blew me away. Most of the teams seemed better prepared and much more on their game then when I was in their shoes five years before.

In 2018, my comp experience came full circle, and I’m eager to see what challenges and opportunities 2019 brings for me, the competition and the teams. With its new home at Winton Raceway, I see nothing but big things ahead for our Australasian competition.


Out of my comfort zone

Orange is still not my colour.
Orange is still not my colour.

This weekend I stepped out of the media centre and into a flag point for round one of the Winton Motor Racing Championship as a trainee flag marshal. I learned more (and knew more!) than I thought I would and have an even greater appreciation for track-side officials. Ten hours in a concrete box with a tin roof is no easy feat.

There is no denying that watching racing on TV or from the grandstand is an exciting experience. One small miss-step or one race winning move has the power to draw a collective “oh s***” from the audience, I would say more so than any other sport – think SVG’s recent Bathurst 12 Hour debacle in the dying laps of the race or Fabian Coulthard’s heart-stopping smash at the Gold Coast last year. But, I’m not much of a sports fan outside of things with four wheels or a pigskin so don’t quote me on that.

But there is something to be said for being right in the action, breathing in the smell of a bit of burning rubber after a wheel lock or the sound of a turbo 13b brap-brap-brapping its way passed or watching the water in your bottle vibrate as the cars zip by. Seeing, hearing, feeling – that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. You can’t write about what you don’t know and there is plenty about motorsport that I don’t know. I’ve never been the type of person who enjoys just sitting behind a computer commenting on what’s going on around me. I want to live and breathe the things that I write about.

I’m looking forward to many more 10-hour days in a concrete box with a tin roof in the future.

This time last year

This time last year Mark Winterbottom was poised to win his first championship  One year later, a new first-time champion has been crowned, leaving the veterans to contemplate their own mortality in this game.

This time last year, I was in awe of everything around me and I was doing my best to not be a giddy school girl volunteering at my second Supercars event. I felt so incredibly lucky to be sitting in a room full of some the most notable motorsport journalists and photographers not only in Australia, but around the world. Many things have changed for me over the past 11 months – I’ve moved out of home (again), started a new job in a new town, made new friends and celebrated my first two-year anniversary with a boyfriend. I’ve learned a few life lessons, and there are a couple that are taking longer to sink in that I would like.

This time last year I had just finished my degree and was eagerly anticipating life after university.

This time, this year one thing hasn’t changed. I still feel incredibly lucky for the opportunities I have been given and the people I get to spend my days with on race weekends. The collective knowledge of motorsport and photography and journalism all working towards the same goal is awe-inspiring.

Every single person I have met since I began volunteering is here because they love what they do. They are here because they want to be, they aren’t just showing up to the office to collect a paycheque every week.

As this year draws to a close, there are many more changes on the horizon and we are reminded that nothing is for certain. Long-time stalwarts have found (or are still looking for) new homes and young guns with bright futures are making names for themselves with each passing race. We are also saying goodbye to Sydney Olympic Park, which has been home to the season finale since 2009.

What I’m trying to say, and not doing so very eloquently at all, is pretty simple: so much can change in a year. For me, 2016 has been an adjustment period and a year full of things that I would do a little differently if I were given the chance. While this year definitely had its highs, it also had some lows and that will be very happy to shake off once the clock strikes midnight.  In 2017 (much like the finale round for Supercars) I’m looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things.