The line-up for the Formula Student 2016 Acceleration Event

Petrol not dead for Formula Student as EV front runners disqualified

A combustion-engine-powered car has been crowned the 2016 Formula Student champion after three years of electric vehicle domination following the disqualification of electric front-runners.

The racing car created by a team of students from the University of Stuttgart, Germany, has won the title after coming first in the Endurance Event, which saw the defending champions from Delft University, the Netherlands, as well as the 2013 winners from ETH Zurich, dismissed by judges.

Unlike in 2015 when all the top three spots were taken by electric racing cars, the 2016 season ended up taken over by combustion, despite original expectations. It is the first time in four years that a combustion engine car has taken the top spot: ETH Zurich won in 2013 and Delft  then took the title two years in a row.

It has come as a surprise then that the only electric vehicle in the 2016 top three was that of the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, which won this year’s Acceleration Event. The third place went to a team from the University of Gratz, Austria. The best UK team, from the University of Bath, came fourth, also with a combustion engine car.

“We came here to win, obviously, but the competition is really tough,” Noel Moorhouse, leader of the Bath team told E&T ahead of the decisive Endurance race.

“We looked at both options at the beginning of the design process. We reviewed electric and combustion cars. But looking realistically at what we could feasibly build as a team and looking at what we had available to us, it made sense to us to stick with combustion.”

The decision paid off, although until the last day of the four-day racing meeting at Silverstone it seemed electricity would be dominating once again. In Saturday’s Acceleration Event, the six best-performing cars were all electric, featuring electric motors at each wheel – a major advantage over combustion.

But Sunday’s Endurance Event purged the competition of its greatest favourites.

“Unfortunately we've been disqualified from Endurance for temporarily exceeding the 60kW limit. Huge disappointment,” the ETH Zurich team tweeted following the event in which it finished with one of the best times.

After ETH Zurich, judges also sent packing the defending double champions from Delft, an electric car designed by another Stuttgart team, a vehicle by students of the University of Munich and a team from Amberg, also Germany. All of these cutting-edge electric vehicles were disqualified because of breaches of technical limits.

Zurich didn’t let their disappointment show as they celebrated coming first in the Engineering Design competition and the Skid Pad challenge.

The team’s car, named Gotthard, also came second in the Acceleration Event, for which it was a hot favourite.

Gotthard’s predecessor, an electric car built by the ETH Zurich team two years ago, has recently broken the acceleration record by an electric vehicle, beating even Formula E cars.

According to Beth Lily Georgiou, Formula Student Project Leader, the increasing strength of electric vehicles is a major trend that could be observed in the competition.

“This year, we had 32 electric teams competing with electric cars, which is the highest number ever for a UK event and over 50 electric teams actually applied to be part of the competition,” Georgiou said. “We are seeing a big trend in teams converting to electric entirely or teams such as Bath, Karslruhe and Stuttgart, running a combustion engine and an electric car from the same university.”

The competition, which started in 1998 at a small testing venue in Coventry, has been going from strength to strength. This year’s meeting at the racing circuit in Silverstone, was attended by 113 teams, with some coming from as far as Australia and Sri Lanka.

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