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On the Right Track – Formula Manipal’s latest Endeavour

The automobile workshop emanated mild chatter and the shuffle of shoes against old tile. The intensity of several sharp minds working on a single, career-defining project was palpable in the warm evening breeze. One could almost feel the tension and exhaustion in the air. Mixed with sheer excitement and enthusiasm, this strange combination is something that only comes with working on a project as intense as the one at hand. This is a student project with a team determined to leave their competition else in the dust, with its eyes on the prize and its head to the sky.

This is Formula Manipal.

“Our goal is number one, or nothing,” says team manager, Rakshith Ramesh about the upcoming Formula Bharat – India’s largest student formula racing competition, to be held Kari Motor Speedway, Coimbatore in late January. “And we’re fairly certain we can achieve it. We’ve tested the car way more than we did for the previous event in Germany last year, and come up with lots of important improvements. We also came first in the registration quiz. The chances of winning are quite high.”

“And,” he adds as an afterthought, “We’re car No. 01.”

The MAHE Automobile Workshop near KC

Formula Manipal is Manipal Institute of Technology’s pride and joy, and perhaps one of India’s most exceptional student initiatives. Now, with its arsenal of well trained students and remarkable new car, it promises one hell of a ride.

The highlight upgrade from the FMX6 to the FMX6 2.0 is the more aerodynamic and streamlined design, which will facilitate the better performance of the car, as compared to previous competitions. Another new and improved aspect is the engine, its most recent version being more powerful and competition ready. This year’s car and team are race ready, after rigorous driver training and testing exercises – the first being a passenger car test. The track for this is set up such that it meets certain regulations and guidelines. The next step- Go-Karting- helps eliminate candidates on the basis of their lap timings.

The FMX6 2.0 flaunting the aerodynamic package

Formula Bharat presents the team with a new series of challenges- with events divided into static and dynamic categories. In order to compete in any of the events, the car must first qualify the Technical Inspection, which ensures that the car is built according to the rules set by the organizers. The static events include Cost Report – accounting for every expense made on every component of the car. Design Report involves justifying the logic behind and the use of different components of the vehicle, which are all designed and manufactured by Formula Manipal. In the Business Presentation event, the team acts as a start-up enterprise looking for investments from prospective sponsors.

Dynamic events like Acceleration, which involves covering a 75 metre distance in the shortest possible duration (in which Formula Manipal currently holds a nationwide record of 4.19 seconds), are instant crowd pleasers. This year, the team aims to beat its own record, and cover the distance with a better time.

Formula Manipal with the FMX6 in Germany

Other events of interest include Skidpad, which tests the cornering ability of the car by requiring it to move in a figure eight pattern, and AutoCross, which checks the acceleration and brake efficiency of the car. Endurance tests the reliability of the car in a 22 kilometre run pushing it to its limits, making it one of the most anticipated and heavily graded events of the competition.

The budget required to have a team and car capable of performing well in high end, nationwide competitions like Formula Bharat ranges from 35 to 40 lakh rupees. Acquiring this budget proves to be quite a task in itself. The value behind every corporate logo is intangible, with elaborate efforts ensuring their existence on the FMX6 2.0.

A definitive guide to obtaining sponsorships for novice student projects includes expressing passion and willingness to develop and improve. The team’s future plans are also taken into consideration. The sponsors look to ensure that the money they invest is valued and put to use with complete efficiency. Meanwhile, existing student projects must maintain good relations with their present sponsors. It is vital to keep them updated and in the loop. Formula Manipal successfully does so by publishing an online newsletter every month, that gives sponsors an insight into what’s happening in the workshop without physically being there, hence successfully monitoring the use of their resources.

Currently, Formula Student racing is all the rage in India, with colleges vying for their own spot in the ever growing list of Student Formula teams. But, there’s more to being a successful team than money and material resources. Enthusiasm from the team members is key.

“If you’re passionate, you put in hard work and give it time, and you receive the desired end result,” summarises Ramesh.

The team hard at work on one of the busier all-nighters in the workshop

Unfortunately, the quest of finding such team members is easier said than done. With this session’s unsatisfactory recruitments, it is evident that the people who applied have faced a change in priorities. “It seems like they’re not willing to put in time and effort and work through nights,” remarks Ramesh. It works both ways; the recruitment cell tries to eliminate the weaker applicants, but with every new batch, valuable and worthwhile recruits eliminate themselves by backing out as they sense the pressure begin to rise.

Meanwhile, it helps that the Director is very enthusiastic about Formula Manipal’s endeavors and promotes them so wholeheartedly. The administration also plans to introduce a new track in the university premises, seeing that the team functions and performs better when they are granted better testing facilities.

Formula Manipal’s accomplishments over the years

Another hurdle was when the team was forced to take a break for the season of 2015 and 2012 due to financial difficulties. Yet, it proved to be a blessing in disguise, providing the team with some well-deserved time to whip up a batch of improvements for the new version of the car.

India’s vibrant business market, full of possibilities, allows the sale and showcasing of vehicles of a variety that would be difficult to market elsewhere. With budding talent of the caliber that the Indian motorsport scene witnesses, while India does have a long way to go in terms of Formula racing, it is definitely on the right path.

From going from 423 kg to a 205 kg car, and the small space near the machine shop to the larger automobile workshop right outside Kamath Circle over the past 10 years, Formula Manipal has proved its worth with every passing day. When asked about anything in particular that the team found worth being proud of, Ramesh’s simple, resounding answer – “We make racecars, what could be better?” says it all.

Picture Credits – The Formula Manipal Media Team

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