The track for SEM 2016 London featuring the Olympic stadium, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which features a 178-metre tunnel slide (the world’s longest!), the flags of the SEM competitor nations, and a brooding London sky.
With the early-morning presentation of printed data sheets for all components, the final administrative hurdle to TI cleared, and Geec 2.0 was presented with the coveted Technical and Safety Inspection stickers. As far a SEM 2016 is concerned, the Geec is roadworthy! But don’t expect to see it sitting in tailbacks on Bóthar na dTreabh or cruising the M6 anytime soon! By the end of the day, we were among only 11 battery electric prototypes to pass TI out of 50 registered in our category. If our competitors don’t pass TI by the end of the week, the field for the weekend will be pretty small. We are crossing our fingers for them. Even though the competition is fierce at SEM 2016 and the Geec has big ambitions, the camaraderie in the paddocks is incredible. Tools, tips and tricks are shared as easily as awkward multilingual jokes and light-hearted jibes about countries’ performance in Euro 2016. (It’s a pity there aren’t any Icelanders about the place to rise our English hosts!) All teams know the hard work and time needed to get this far. To see our new friends fail to get the chance to compete would break our hearts almost as much as theirs!
Driver Niamh does her media duties while Sean, Barry, Shane, Hugh and Mark do some engineering-type stuff!
Being born in the West of Ireland, the wettest place in Europe, the Geec knows a thing or two about rain and driving in the wet. In fact we didn’t even bother to bring a tarpaulin to cover the car in the rain. Why’s that, you ask? Simple really, if the Geec’s electronic and electrical systems weren’t 100% waterproof (to automotive industry standards, we’ll have you know), there is no way we would ever get to test in Galway. So while the kind of sprinkling we received on Day 3 wouldn’t phase drivers Niamh and Laura, it unfortunately threw a major spanner into the planned afternoon track testing session. The SEM organisers worried, probably correctly, that some of the lighter prototype cars would be vulnerable the gusts that had started to pick up. Lack of windscreen wipers is another concern! So instead, the teams got to do the next best thing; walk the 2-kilometre track! The hills of London could never be compared to La Paz (the Bolivian capital) or even to Cork, but there was a collective gulp of apprehension when we saw the hill, a 250-metre-long drag that we always knew was going to test everything from the motor, power electronics, and drive train, to the drivers’ nerves. We had no comparable incline on which to test in Ireland, so relied on theory to tell us how the car would perform. We christened it Croagh Patrick, and set about preparing the car for a test drive, weather permitting.
Croagh Patrick, complete with pilgrims. This hill was to test the Geec to its limits, and beyond!
At 4:35pm, all prototype teams were told out of the blue that the weather had cleared up and we had five minutes to get to the start line for one hour only of driving. Five minutes! We had completely dismantled the shell in order to chase down a long-running rear brake gremlin. Five minutes! Get some bodies to queue up with bits and pieces of the car. We don’t care what part you grab, just save us a spot! Five minutes! Where are the drivers gone??? One of the great mysteries of the Geec’s voyages to SEM is where our drivers go when the car is being worked on. Bed? Local coffee shop? Alternative dimension? The answer usually involves bean bags, and so it was that Niamh and Laura were humanely captured and asked to select who would take the Geec on its maiden voyage at SEM 2016. Just as Hugh, as well as Daire and Tom (freshly arrived from Ireland), were awkwardly getting to the head of the test drive queue with nothing more than a large piece of carbon fibre in their hands, the remainder of the car and a suited-and-booted Niamh arrived. Five minutes later, the Geec purred its way onto the SEM track for the first time in over a year. Hearts in mouths time!
Strapping Niamh in for the Geec’s first drive at SEM 2016
The whole team, freshly delivered pizzas in hand, rushed to the viewing position to see the peak of Croagh Patrick, which was conveniently located beside the portable toilets. Delightful. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And then we saw the Hungarian car that went out two minutes before the Geec. And we waited. And we waited some more. No Geec. Either Niamh had taken a wrong turn and was halfway to Birmingham or something had gone wrong. We got confirmation a few minutes later when a rescue truck (a golf buggy with a trailer really) crested the hill with the Geec on the flat-bed. Rats! Within minutes came the announcement that practice was finished for the day. Double rats! The first test run had ended in ignominy. Back at the paddock, Niamh was interviewed, data was analysed, and failure modes were postulated. Without going into all the gory details, it seems that Croagh Patrick wanted to extract a high price to any Geec that wanted to climb it. Niamh reported a half dozen other cars incapacitated at its foot! Still, we had 1.5 kilometres worth of data to chew on. Not the ideal start, but not too bad either! Remember, nearly 80% of the cars in our class had yet to pass technical inspection!
Analysing what happened on the first test run. Sean’s obviously not too happy with being papped!
So there we are; end of Day 3 and faced with a serious challenge. So serious, there’s only one way to tackle it. That’s right, we’re going to have to engineer our way through it! Here’s looking at you, Day 4!