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Students, start your engines

Hundreds of revved-up engineering students from across Australia and Asia will jam the pedal to the metal at Victoria University's (VU) Werribee Campus November 27-30, competing in scaled-down high-performance racing cars they have designed, built, and will drive themselves.

The Formula SAE - or Society of Automotive Engineers - has become the highlight on the calendars of university engineering students, since its launch in the US in 1980 and in Australasia in 2000. The contest tests the skills of up-and-coming engineers on an international stage. Teams are judged on their car's performance and endurance, its design, cost, and commercial viability - all factors of real automotive engineering.

Twenty-four teams from universities in Australia, and as far away as India and Japan, will compete in the 2008 contest. Vehicles have engines up to 80 horsepower, reach speeds of more than 130 kph, and are capable of accelerating to 100 kph in under four seconds.

The 12-member VU team, comprised mainly of fourth-year mechanical and electrical engineering students, has managed their entire project themselves, including scheduling, budgeting, securing sponsorships, designing, building and testing their car.

One of two project supervisors, Dr Ă–zden Turan, Associate Professor in VU's School of Engineering and Science, said the University has competed commendably against other well-seasoned competitors in the past, considering this is only its fourth year.

She said: "We get better each time, and more importantly, our students learn more every year. There's no reason why we won't be at the top in a few more years."

Last year, VU came twelfth in a 27-team competition, but was one of the few teams that completed all track events, including the acceleration, motorcross, skidpad and endurance contests, following three presentation assessments.

Ben Stewart-Steele, 25, co-captain of this year's VU team and a final-year mechanical engineering student, said he has loved "every minute" of the 20 hours a week he has devoted to the project over the past 12 months.

He said: "This is invaluable for bringing theory from the classroom to the real world. At some universities, entering the Formula SAE is an extra-curricular project, but for us, it's an expected part of the program."

Among the event's 2000 daily spectators, students have opportunities to meet recruiters from leading car manufacturers and engineering firms hoping to spot emerging talent.

Where: VU Industrial Skills Training Track, Werribee Campus, Victoria University, Gate 4, Hoppers Lane, Werribee

When: Thursday 27 November to Sunday 30 November, 2008 (Cars are judged on design from 9.00 am on Friday 28 November. Performance events from 9.00 am on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 November).

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