KA-RaceIng: full speed ahead with electric racing cars

Reading time approx. 4 minutes
Text: Petra Wurm
Photos: KA-RaceIng

Constructing your own racing car and putting it to the test in an international competition? Now that’s exciting stuff. In Karlsruhe, this dream is being lived by students who have joined KA-RaceIng, an association affiliated with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Every year, the KIT students take part in the Formula Student competition by building one vehicle with a combustion engine and two with an electric drive. The competition was launched in the USA and was held there for the first time in 1981. The event came to Germany in 2006 under the name Formula Student Germany, and the Karlsruhe team has been participating since 2007. The racing cars taking to the track for KA-RaceIng in this international student design competition are real powerhouses.

Electric vehicles from KA-RaceIng set for success

The electric car can really shine here: ‘The turbocharged combustion engine of the KIT18c takes it from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour in a mere 4 seconds – while its sibling, the KIT18e powered by four electric motors, manages the same in just 2.5 seconds,’ explains Sherif Nekkah. The 23-year-old mechatronics and IT student was responsible for the high-voltage battery of the electric vehicle for KA-RaceIng in 2018. He is now the team leader for autonomous driving and is working on the software for the driverless electric racing car. The car achieved considerable success in 2018: the design was the overall winner at the FS East Driverless event in Hungary and came in second in the Heimrennen at the Hockenheimring in Germany.

To achieve such success, the overall package has to be just right. As well as proving that their vehicles are fast, safe and nimble on the track, the students must submit the cars for critical examination by experts. The competition consists of two disciplines: the dynamic part of driving and the static part. The final result takes into account design, acceleration and endurance, but the jury also assesses the extent to which teams keep an eye on costs as well as the viability of their business plans for series production.

KA-RaceIng Gymkhana

Teamwork is the key to success

The KA-RaceIng team has 80 members – mainly mechanical engineering students but also undergraduates from other disciplines such as electrical engineering, computer science, industrial engineering, business management and physics. The team comprises a number of sub-teams, each focusing on a specific area – for example, the running gear or the engine. Each team member is responsible for a specific task or component. The team not only develops the complete chassis but also works with the university and partners in industry to develop the engine or motors and the power electronics. ‘We are not just doing this to optimise costs,’ says Sherif Nekkah. ‘If we develop the parts for our highly complex vehicles ourselves, we can tailor them perfectly to our car and so save a lot of weight too.’ Thanks to their many supporters, the students are able to use a fully equipped workshop and high-quality materials.

KA-RaceIng and BPW: cooperating and benefiting

The team also collaborates on technology with partners such as BPW. Team members and representatives from BPW share their knowledge at regular meetings, and the students have the opportunity to ask all of their questions. BPW also benefits from this cooperation, especially in the field of electromobility – which is also an important topic for the commercial vehicle sector. BPW is working intensively on this in many projects and has developed innovations such as the eTransport electric drive axle. Beyond the collaboration with KA-RaceIng, there is also active contact between BPW and KIT. In the growing electric mobility sector, KIT students have the chance to set themselves apart with work placements and even to take up employment at BPW straight after their studies.

KA-RaceIng builds electric racing cars – and character

Sherif Nekkah came across the team during a KA-RaceIng recruitment campaign on campus and was instantly intrigued by the racing cars. He was excited to learn that the vehicles were entirely developed and built by students and seized the opportunity to get involved. This brought him a great deal of knowledge and practical skills – and the realisation of what he wanted his future career to look like. ‘If possible, I want to carry on doing what I am doing with KA-RaceIng in my professional life later. The way you learn here is incredibly intensive and hands-on. You are confronted with many topics. I’ve been working with electromobility and autonomous driving here, and I think this will help me in my career later on too,’ explains Nekkah.

»I really recommend getting involved to any students who want to do something practical. It is a great opportunity and a valuable experience.«

Sherif Nekkah

»I really recommend getting involved to any students who want to do something practical. It is a great opportunity and a valuable experience.«

Sherif Nekkah

‘You are not just developing vehicles – you are also developing yourself, because it is an incredible experience to get involved here. Ultimately, you work together to master a task that seems impossible at first. And when you stay on board for a second year and take on responsibility for a team too, this benefits your personal development as well as your technical skills. You grow with each task.’ He ends on a positive summary: ‘I really recommend getting involved in KA-RaceIng to any students who want to do something practical. It is a great opportunity and a valuable experience. And when else do you get a chance in life to do something so crazy?’

A bonus on your CV

KIT is a joint venture of the Karlsruhe Research Centre and the University of Karlsruhe. The students’ involvement in the project does not count towards their studies – it is a hobby that they do alongside their university work. However, the association has strong support from the university, and the competition is well known in the industry; thus, participation provides a little extra bonus on a CV. It can compensate for the occasional lack of practical relevance offered by university education, as the students put their knowledge into practice and so build skills.

Rapid progress

The future arrived long ago for KA-RaceIng: alongside vehicles with combustion engines, students have been building electrically powered racing cars since 2010, and a model with an electric motor and driverless technology was introduced in 2017. The three new racing car models that the team has developed and built together are unveiled in May each year. The models incorporate the accumulated knowledge and creativity of the students and build on experiences from the competitions that were entered during the last racing season in the Formula Student. The models are developed and optimised quickly – the only limits are the time, the budget and the rules. Sherif Nekkah is conscious of the freedom that the students enjoy when working on the vehicles: ‘We are just building prototypes for races, after all. In the industry, everything has to be compliant with standards and have legal safeguards. This is an enormous challenge for vehicle manufacturers in both the car market and the commercial vehicle segment – particularly when it comes to autonomous systems.’
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