Ballyclare students hit top gear at International Finals

The Ballyclare Secondary team; Wallace Shanks, Robyn McConnell, Brandon McQuitty, Lois Sellar, Jay McKenna, Megan Reid, Michael Hamilton and Jordan Drummond. INNT 43-837CON
The Ballyclare Secondary team; Wallace Shanks, Robyn McConnell, Brandon McQuitty, Lois Sellar, Jay McKenna, Megan Reid, Michael Hamilton and Jordan Drummond. INNT 43-837CON

Pupils from Ballyclare Secondary School represented Northern Ireland at the Greenpower International Finals recently in Rockingham, bringing silverware home to the Doagh Road school.

The Greenpower International Finals are the pinnacle event in a yearlong Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) project which uses the excitement of motorsport to foster an interest in, and provide relevance to STEM subjects.

Teams in the United States, Poland, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, China, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Ireland design, build and race single seat electric cars using cutting edge design software and materials. The cars are raced at regional heats, with qualification leading to a grid position at the International Finals.

Saturday, October 15 provided an opportunity for kit based cars to race with Ballyclare Secondary School’s ‘Forget Fossil’ car placing 17th, mid table and a substantial result for the team.

When an international team were struggling with a catastrophic steering problem, the Ballyclare team proposed a simple and effective repair allowing the team which had travelled a vast distance, to race competitively and avoid a disappointing return home.

Then they did the unthinkable. With a window of three hours before the pits closed, the three girls and five boys embarked upon a complete dismantling of the Forget Fossil kit car so the components could be transferred to a new, lighter aluminium chassis for the next day’s race.

The material for the aluminium chassis, supplied by Aalco, was welded in partnership with Allister Moore Welding, who mentored the young team members so they picked up experience in a specialised engineering process.

Carbon fibre body panels were created during a week-long placement with Wright Group, Ballymena, empowering the team with experience in cutting edge materials and manufacturing processes.

Some components could not be manufactured, and Chain Reaction Cycles stepped in to assist.

Stuart Christy, Regional Ambassador for Greenpower in Northern Ireland and Ireland said: “Normally when I describe to schools how long it takes to build a kit, I advise the teacher that the pair of us could built it in about four hours. To consider building a kit the night before a world championship final is a very brave decision. The Ballyclare Secondary School team stripped a kit and built their own car from scratch using their own aluminium chassis in an hour and three quarters. They even had time to get it scrutinised before the pits closed.”

The events in the Ballyclare pits caused a bit of a stir, with representatives from multinational companies, peer teams, judges and dignitaries visiting to witness the feat of teamwork and engineering taking place.

‘Forget Fossil mk2’ emerged from a flurry of coordination with a smoky demonstration in Ohms Law provided for good measure, speedily rectified by replacing the cable with a thicker one.

The IET Formula 24 International Championships Final was held on Sunday, October 16. Ballyclare Secondary School fought through wet conditions to achieve the best results yet for teams representing the island of Ireland.

Again placing mid table, and covering over 30 miles in the first endurance race, the team outperformed peers. Their best performance was in the second endurance race, though they had to retire early to return home.

Greenpower challenges are educational, the racing is the culmination of an educational and personal development journey lasting an academic year. In addition to awards for racing, portfolios, presentation, innovation, engineering is recognised.

The most coveted award is “The Spirit of Greenpower.” The award is the hardest to win, and goes to the team that most closely epitomises the values of Greenpower. This trophy was won by Ballyclare Secondary School.

Awarded at the first Greenpower event in 1999 by the charity’s founder; Barry Shears, it has been awarded annually at Championship Finals. Barry Shears passed away this year from Motor Neurone Disease and when his family were trying to decide on the award to dedicate in his memory, The Spirit of Greenpower Award was their obvious choice.

Robyn McConnell, a member of the team who drove on the day said: “It was such an honour to represent our school and our country at the International Finals. It was wonderful meeting so many other young people from around the world and we cannot wait to come back next year.”