Student drivers race to Italy

Student drivers race to Italy

Joint BGU and Bezalel teams design and build a car, from scratch, for an international automotive competition

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Revving up for the dry run (photo credit: Dani Machlis/Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
Revving up for the dry run (photo credit: Dani Machlis/Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

The race car was impressive — dark blue, sleek and surprisingly small, not much longer than a bumper car at an amusement park. And every piece of it, from the chassis to the low-slung seat, was designed, built and put in place by a team of college students.

To the applause and delight of the watching crowd last week, one of those students test-drove their creation, veering around the dusty curves of Israel’s sole race track .

The 25 students — from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Mechanical Engineering Department and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s Industrial Design Department — built the car to compete in this weekend’s Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers International) competition in Varano de’ Melegari in Italy. It’s the second time that the BGU students have participated in the event, and the first time they’ve collaborated with the Bezalel students, who were responsible for the car’s style and design.

“It attests to how two disciplines can work together,” said Dori Regev, a senior lecturer in Bezalel’s Industrial Design Department, who developed a car-design course especially for this project.

Last year, the BGU-designed car was the best of the “rookie teams,” said Tamir Plachinsky, the founder of the original project, and it came in 15th overall — out of 57 teams.

“I’m excited to see this project go on,” said Plachinsky, who spent the past six months in Italy working on race cars for top local firm Dallara, which he likened to “six months at an amusement park… It’s not working; it’s a chance to do what you love. You get addicted to this.”

That sentiment is evidently shared by members of the young Israeli team, many of whom spent the past week at the race track — outside the Sharon community of Kochav Ya’ir — sleeping in a makeshift meeting room, and sometimes in the car itself, as they fine-tuned their year-long project.

“We built everything,” said Ben Levitan, the BGU mechanical engineering student who steered this year’s team. “It was our final project, something that people usually spend a few hours on each week. We each spent entire weeks on this.”

A car that earns its stripes (photo credit: Dani Machlis/Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
A car that earns its stripes (photo credit: Dani Machlis/Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Though the car is capable of reaching speeds of 100 kilometers (around 62 miles) an hour on “a very short track,” said Plachinsky, the competition is less about velocity than a car’s overall design and functionality. In Italy this week, it is undergoing two days of inspection and then two days of actual competition, including dynamic and static events, explained Levitan.

The race car reached Italy by way of United Parcel Service, one of the sponsors of the project. A brown UPS van stood at the race track, waiting to load it on a UPS plane for delivery to Varano de’ Melegari.

Four drivers from the student design team are doing the test-driving, putting the car through its Italian paces before the competition begins on Friday and ends next Monday. Formula SAE is considered the major and most important group of automotive engineers in the world and is the founder of the student-design competition.

“It’s not just theoretical,” said Bezalel’s Regev of the vehicle and everything that went into it. “It’s a real working car that was built by a team according to a tight schedule, all within the academic calendar.”

The checkered flag awaits.


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