High school students from around Montana are racing toward the finish line with an activity that’s designed to beef up their science and engineering skills.
Around 60 students gathered Monday at Highlands College for the annual F1 in Schools competition, some traveling from as far away as Canada to take part in the annual race and Formula One mini-car showcase.
To prepare for the competition, teams of up to six students spend the year designing 50-gram racing cars, which they race on a 20-meter track, reaching speeds between 35 and 40 miles per hour.
That’s according to Juan Gonzalez, who facilitates competitions all over the U.S. and raises awareness about the program on behalf of the F1 in Schools nonprofit, based out of England.
Teams who qualify Monday will go on to the national competition June 13-16 in Austin, Texas, and a few of those students will join teams from 44 countries at the world competition in Singapore.
The Singapore Grand Prix will be going on at the same time, Gonzales said, so students who go on to the worlds will get a chance to rub shoulders with real-life racers.
“Some of these guys haven’t been outside their hometowns,” said Gonzales, remarking on what the experience might could for some students.
Students design and build their vehicles using computerized machines and computer-aided design software, and they test their cars using a process known as “computational fluid dynamics,” Gonzales said.
The Corvallis Speed Devils was a team that took part in the competition Monday.
Team member Colter Hartless, a senior at Corvallis High School, said the competition isn’t just about the race.
Much like a real Formula One racing team, he and his teammates had to recruit sponsors to cover their expenses.
“Essentially, we’re running our own business,” the 18-year-old said.
In addition, students are judged on myriad criteria — things like the effectiveness of their pit display, the paint jobs on their cars and their ability to explain their marketing plan and the technical aspects of their car, among other categories.
F1 is about technology and engineering skills, to be sure. But it’s also about learning to be a good communicator, Hartless said.
Corvallis senior Ben Ericson, 17, agreed.
“We’ve been on the radio before,” said Ericson. “We’re just really trying to, one, get our name out there to see if other sponsors will come to us. And, two, going out there ourselves and talking to people and telling them what we’re about in order to raise money.”
Corvallis has come in second twice at the Montana state competition.
Last year, the team came in 16th at nationals despite getting disqualified in a few categories due to technicalities.
“After the crushing defeat last year we hit it hard,” Hartless said. “We started in September, and we’ve just been going on. The past week we’ve been at the school until about midnight every day just getting stuff done. So there’s been a lot of time and hours, energy and sacrifices that we’ve put in.”
The school at 25 Basin Creek Road teamed with the Montana Office of Public Instruction and Montana’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers to put on the event.
“This is pretty impressive, the stuff that (students) have to do,” said David Gurchiek, dean of the college. “It’s not just about a race, it’s about a whole process.”
Gurchiek said that this is the second year Highlands has hosted the competition, which took place at Montana Tech in prior years.
When asked what he likes best about participating in the program, Ericson said he likes the fact that F1 provides a hands-on learning experience.
“I feel like this is one of the most down-to-earth, real-life experiences I’ve had in high school so far. I’ve done science and math competitions across the nation, even, and I feel like this is really more my speed.”
“No pun intended,” he added.