The first Israeli entry into the Formula SAE competition
The moment Tamir Plachinksy lowered his visor and started driving a blue-and-white car in the Formula SAE Race Car competition in Varano de’ Melegari, Italy, in September, he’d realized a dream that started two years beforehand.
Plachinsky, 31, led a team of 22 Israeli mechanical engineering students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in a quest to take part in Israel’s first Formula SAE, a four-day competition that challenges university undergraduate and graduate students to use old-fashioned teamwork to conceive, design, fabricate and compete with small, Formula-style autocross racing cars.
Cheered on by family members as well as BGU industrial engineering students who evaluated changes and risks in the project, the Israeli newbies placed 15th out of 57 teams, and first out of the eight teams that were first-time competitors.
Plachinsky says he was walking on air, especially when the winning team from Stuttgart admired the Israeli single-seater and deemed it better than their first one had been.
“The event is run annually in many countries and teams can compete in as many as they want,” he explains.
“The good teams have been doing this for 10 to 15 years and have support from the auto industry, so their cars are amazing. When the Stuttgart team saw ours, a first effort, they said theirs had been nowhere as good as ours. They said we were the best first-year team they ever saw, and encouraged us to come back next year with a new car.”
And that’s the plan. A new team of mechanical engineering students is already at work on the next model, using the “old” one as the base prototype. “We’ll keep it and save it forever,” says Plachinsky with great fondness.
The Israeli team.
Team leader Tamir Plachinsky,
in dark blue shirt, is in the middle
of the standing row, behind the flag.
For the love of racecars
The saga began when Plachinsky, a doctoral student, got permission from Prof. Eran Sher to revive a dormant racecar project and recruit fourth-year engineering students to work on it as part of their final project.
“I love racecars since forever, and when I went to study mechanical engineering it was out of a love of cars,” Plachinsky says.
He set his sights on the Formula SAE, which is organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers and provides rules for building a regulation racecar including four wheels outside of the frame and an open cockpit.
Easier said than done.
The all-male team of 19 fourth-year students and three third-year students couldn’t get started without a lot of support in terms of both money and materials. “We wrote emails to everyone, made tons of phone calls and drove throughout the country making presentations to anyone who sounded interested,” recalls Plachinsky.
Though donors and sponsors did come through, including one from the United States, he sunk a significant amount of his own money into the project, and other students also chipped in.
He divided the fourth-year students into 10 groups, each in charge of a system such as suspension, steering and engine. It was his job to keep everyone coordinated through the design phase, which was carried out on campus, and the building phase, which was done in Petah Tikva at the steel workshop of one of the student’s parents.
“We found a sponsor to take the car all the way to Italy and back, which cost a few thousand euros, and we paid for our own tickets. It’s crazy,” he admits with a laugh.
Making a good impression for Israel
When they arrived in Varano, led by faculty member Dr. Gideon Goldwine, the team felt like winners before ever getting to the track. That’s because their car passed rigorous design and safety testing by representatives of Ferrari and Maserati with flying colors.
“At the event, it’s in the rules that at least four drivers need to drive each team’s car, so it was me and three other students,” says Plachinsky, whose parents came along.
The Israeli had nothing but praise for the way the team was treated by judges and fellow competitors alike.
“Not only we were treated fairly, but we really got the sense that everyone was happy Israelis came to this event. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and told us over and over how good our car was.”
Many of them also said that meeting the BGU team had started them thinking of visiting Israel for the first time. “We made a lot of good contacts and a good image for Israel,” says Plachinksy.
A major motor sports journal in Italy interviewed the team, as did Israel’s Channel Two. “It’s been just amazing,” says the future racecar designer.
And the cool blue and white uniforms worn by the drivers? They were lent to the BGU team by the Israeli importer of the manufacturer Sparco, and had to be returned after the race.
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