Since the proliferation of one-make categories became established in the lower formulae of car racing towards the end of the 20th century there has been concern over the lack of opportunities for youngsters to gain experience that will be of value to the British Motorsport industry.
Helping to fill this void are the many educational establishments which offer training in the construction and preparation of competition vehicles. One example of this is the Motor Sports Bachelor of Engineering Degree course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). Not only does this provide classroom based learning but there is also the option of getting priceless ‘hands on’ experience by being involved in the extracurricular Formula Ford racing squad.
This team is operated almost solely by foundation and first year students with just a couple of members of staff being present to guide them. Nonetheless, the outfit has a fine reputation in the paddocks of Oulton Park and Anglesey where it is a regular in the Northern FF1600 Championship. This is underscored by the fact that this season’s lead driver, Chris Chrisnall, has signed up having been impressed by the under-graduates who were on hand to assist when he joined the series in 2004 with another entrant.
Although a great advert for the Lancastrian learning establishment (the racing cars always generate plenty of interest on open days) no funding is received from the university. The budget is secured from those who are willing to get behind the wheel of the cars that are tended to by these budding Formula 1 engineers. The crew of mechanics have to deliver competitive cars to continue in business. It doesn’t get any more ‘real’ than this!
The UCLAN syllabus and the team itself were established in 2000 having evolved from a General Engineering Degree prospectus which had suffered from declining numbers. A more focussed offering reversed that trend.
Many have used the course as a springboard into their dream career. One such is Simon Laughlin who is now the General Manager of Juno UK – the manufacturer of innovative, beautifully engineered sports-racing and Formula Ford cars.
Being involved with the racing team was a key factor in giving Simon and his fellow students an edge in the job market. He says “It allowed us to develop the skills we had learnt in the workshop/classroom. We were given the opportunity to become familiar with setting up vehicles and the logistics involved with getting them out on the track. For people with so little experience the chance to be physically allowed to run a car, make decisions and influence the team is still pretty much non-existent elsewhere.”
Simon was especially impressed with the quality of the lecturers and technicians that oversee the course, who he says “…are hugely knowledgeable and supportive. They passed on invaluable advice but also allowed enough room for personal learning and development.”
The exposure available to the world of powered competition extends far beyond four-wheels, infact sometimes no wheels are involved at all(!) as the roster of tutors includes 2008 British F3 Hovercraft Champion, Tony Broad. Meanwhile a Tuesday night motorsports club is the time when engine building skills are practiced. Racing motorcycles are also prepared on club nights, in the past these bikes have competed at Macau and in the Bol d’Or 24 Hours.
There are no regrets in Simon’s mind about doing the course. “I will be forever grateful that I attended UCLAN,” he confirms “as the staff nurtured us while we learnt. We also enjoyed life and motorsport along the way! I would have no hesitation in recommending both the university and the course to anybody looking towards a career in Motorsport. Once studying at the Preston campus it is a no brainer to then become involved in the race team.”
For more details about the course see http://www.uclan.ac.uk/information/courses/MotorSportsBEng.php