Interview – Ecurie Aix

Introduce your team briefly.

We are Ecurie Aix, the Formula Student Team of RWTH Aachen University from Germany. Our team was founded in 1999, which makes us one of the oldest competitors at events all around Europe. Currently around 70 engineering students make up our active team, with hundreds of alumni supporting us from behind the scenes. Our somewhat unusual and hard to pronounce name stems from the French word for racing stable (Ecurie) and was chosen in reference to the racing heritage in the Aachen region. We are currently working on our ninth electric race car and our fourth autonomous vehicle.

How did the cancellation of the formula student competitions impact your team?

The cancellation of the yearly events was a huge blow to the Formula Student world since they have always been the highlight of the year – the weeks of hopefully enjoying the payoff of a year’s hard work. However, staying safe should always be the utmost priority, in motorsport as well as everywhere else, which is why we fully respect and support the decision.

The current situation poses a challenge for sure, but we can only get through it by acting responsibly together. This challenge also puts our motivation to test but collectively as a team we still strive to complete the intricate task of designing and assembling a race car. By closing our workshop for several weeks due to health regulations put in place in our country, we found the time for numerous administrative and documentation tasks that would otherwise have been left untouched. At the end of the day, we still want to see our race car on the track – even if it’s a little later and not on the biggest racetracks and testing grounds in Europe. So we will continue our dedicated work to reach that goal. The cancellation of the events lifted the intense time pressure that Formula Student teams face every season and allows for more thorough work in some instances. More testing time at home will also hopefully help us to understand our car better and enable us to work out vehicle parameters as well as collect data for further developments.

How did your team deal with the situation, what challenges did you face and how did you resolve them?

As aforementioned, the global pandemic put regulations in place which forced us to pause our work on the car and close our workshop for several weeks. This also meant that our meetings which are usually held in the workshop had to be held online instead. This different way of working and communicating was thankfully made easier through many software tools. In addition, we not only held scheduled meetings online but also worked together throughout the day, staying in contact and keeping team spirit and morality high even during these tough times.

The break in the process of finishing up our car means that our entire time schedule for the season is shifted. Also, though Formula Student events are not held traditionally this year, preparation for Online alternatives is still very important, meaning we are for sure kept busy.

After the lifting of some regulations, working in the workshop has been made possible again. Of course, safety measures still have to be applied, including wearing facemasks, limiting the number of the team members in the workshop, disinfecting all workplaces, and much more. This is especially hard for our new team members, who usually learn a lot by being present during technical work. They currently cannot get to know our “normal” workshop activities and all the people. This means that we have to do an even better job at transferring knowledge this season than ever before. All in all, we certainly were challenged by the situation, but we tried to make the best of it all along, and now we are all very thankful that we can slowly continue working on our cars.

What will you do differently for the online event?

Aside from the obvious change that no physical racing will be possible at the online event, the changes for static events impose some new challenges for our team members. The lack of discussion and relying on our actual car to help with our design event presentations mean changes in our presentation style will have to be put in place. The focus will lie on the team members’ performance alone, so presentations on screen and in word both must be on point. Challenges do give room to shine though, and especially new ways of visualizing our ideas, processes, and results can be exciting advantages as opposed to “usual” design events.

The training for our drivers might even be much to the liking of some, at least considering possible technical delays of a real car on the test track which can last for hours. Now drivers can practice whenever they want, for however long they want on the digital racetrack.

What is your biggest achievement in Formula Student so far?

The last competitive year (2019) marked one of the most successful seasons in the history of Ecurie Aix so far. This reflects especially in the results at the FSG 2019. We were able to achieve our highest score yet and take the fourth place overall with our electric vehicle, the eace08. Our driverless vehicle had an impressive showing at the FS ATA in Italy and was able to place third overall there. All in all, especially static events were constantly on a very high level for our team.

Do you believe the future of Formula Student can adapt to the COVID-19 crisis and how? 

Although the Formula Student competition might be young compared to others, it does have a strong history especially in the realms of international engineering competitions. The global pandemic poses a challenge that can be overcome by focusing on things relevant to Formula Student which can still be handled in an online fashion for example. There is much which happens beside the racetrack in a Formula Student team. Static disciplines have always been a part of the competitions and can now be approached from a different and maybe more thorough manner now that formats and possibilities have changed. The online event sets the best example for that.

What can the Formula Student organising bodies do to help the struggling teams due to the current events?

It is important now more than ever for the Formula Student organizing bodies to lay out the roadmap for the next event phase as clearly as possible, at an early state. Lifting time pressure off the teams can lead to great development progress over the whole field of the Formula Student competition, which will make the competition itself so much more exciting. Also having an extended online presence in the form of events, little challenges, and especially cooperation with industry partners can be crucial. Formula Student sponsors are also experiencing difficult times presently, it might take considerable effort to win back financial support for teams in the years to come. By being public and close to the industry, Formula Student organizing bodies can be a big factor in re-establishing or keeping sponsors and supporters in the Formula Student.

Do you think there are any positive outcomes for the competition from the current situation?

The time factor of a Formula Student season has been mentioned numerous times throughout the foregoing questions and is a big possibility for many teams. Development and organization in Formula Student is extremely fast-paced. Taking more time for development is an obvious good outcome. Spending the extra time on rethinking how our workflows are structured and how our organizing can be improved might be incredibly helpful for the coming seasons.

Do you think it is beneficial for the teams to participate in an online competition and why?

Online competitions are immensely beneficial to the participating teams. First off, competing is very important for the team spirit, since there is a clearly defined goal that we try to reach, and multiple people must work together in order to get there. Furthermore, static disciplines are not only an important part of the yearly competitions but also function as a great way to pass down knowledge among team members. Also, the very serious competition between teams is an incredible learning experience for the students involved. Events make up a big part of it, and especially the static event feedback is a section which can still be very much employed during an online event.

Did your team help your local society with the COVID-19 situation, if no, please ignore this question, if yes, please provide example.

Despite the tough situation or especially because of it, our team made the best efforts to support society as much as we can. Our experience in 3D-printing and machine capacities at our workshop for example enabled us to print face shields for different organizations. Furthermore, we supported the Folding@home initiative, which focuses on disease research and can be supported through the donation of computing power. The initiative engages itself actively in COVID-19 research. Last but not least we tried our best to not only handle the regulations put in due to the pandemic responsibly ourselves but to also motivate others to do so by supporting the stay at home movement on social media.