Motor Valley Stories
UniBo Motorsport: interview with the Bologna University Racing Team
UniBo Motorsport was born in 2009 out of the passion of a small group of engineering students who wanted to bridge the gap between academia and industry. And so, the Bologna University Racing Team was founded, growing steadily over the years to welcome students from all sorts of departments with one common goal: to design and develop prototypes for combustion and electric cars and motorbikes, and to compete with their own models on real-life circuits against university teams from all over the world.
Guided by Gabriele Cernicchi and Davide Bertozzi, Team Leader and Electric Engine Prototype CTO respectively, we dived straight into the world of UniBo Motorsport to find out what it’s all about.
UniBo Motorsport is a university project that invests in young people. But what does this actually translate into in reality?
UniBo Motorsport is the Bologna University Racing Team. Basically, it’s a way of enabling students to put the theories they learn during their degree into practice by designing and producing racing prototypes (2-wheeled and 4-wheeled, electric and combustion), before finally releasing them onto the track. These prototypes are then raced in competitions held on international circuits (sometimes even F1 circuits) between universities from across the world. But it’s important to remember that these are engineering competitions, where both on-track performance and efficient management of the project, resources and finances available really count.
As well as all this, UniBo Motorsport is a family. It’s a place where people who are passionate about cars and motorsports can meet, united by their drive to achieve a common goal: to make the best car or motorbike they can.
How do you join the team?
Every year at the start of term, there’s a “recruitment” session, during which the prototypes from the previous season are displayed and the project is presented to entice students who might be interested. After this, the applicants are screened through a written test. Those who pass it are then filtered based on an individual interview with specific members of the team, depending on which department the student has applied to.
On the team, everyone has their own job. How are these roles defined?
The structure we have now is naturally the result of the experience we have accrued over the last few years. The team is made up of a Team Leader, who takes care of all the operational and administrative management; a Marketing Manager and three Chief Technical Officers, who are in charge of coordinating the various departmental responsibilities (for example, Aerodynamics, Chassis, Powertrain, etc.) and defining the project deadlines and priorities. Each individual department manager then oversees the work of a smaller group of people, coordinating all the tasks that the department needs to carry out to ensure that the car performs well and complies with the regulations.
Typically, these roles are changed over each year: every manager identifies one or two people who they think would be suitable for the position, and a governing board comprising all managers then discusses the organisational structure for the following year, electing someone new for every role.
How do you choose the rider or driver for the competitions, and what are their responsibilities?
The drivers or riders are also appointed through a specific selection process, this time in the form of a karting track session. Of the candidates (usually around 50-60), those who rank best in terms of various different aspects are selected, such as best lap time and riding precision.
The driver or rider’s main responsibility above all lies with the vehicle itself and in testing out the work that the other members of the team have done to provide them with a functioning, reliable and efficient prototype. They also give feedback to the engineers so that they can refine the car. This feedback can be useful in helping us to understand how to configure various subsystems in order to improve the vehicle’s performance, and identify what weaknesses we need to work on the following year.
Do the students receive any training during this process?
Of course, in reality the whole process is one long training session, punctuated by endless opportunities. Simply experiencing working within a team enables the members, especially the younger ones, to really grow in a technical and organisational sense, teaching them how to experiment and interact with different departments, and how to apply concepts that up until now at university have been purely theoretical. So it’s a chance for them to complement their university studies with a much more practical dimension.
Thanks to our partners, the project also offers numerous training opportunities, from organising seminars on specific topics in the motorsport industry, to forging close collaborations with various companies, such as our main partners: Ducati and Lamborghini.
To give you a concrete example, this year with Lamborghini we were invited to laminate two carbon fibre monocoques for our vehicles at Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata Bolognese factory itself. It was an incredibly useful training opportunity for the members of our team, some of whom even integrated it into their thesis or internship.
Collaborations like this are frequent, and are continuously sought and rolled out with all our partner companies.
What role does the University play in UniBo Motorsport?
University is the glue that binds us together, it’s our common anchor, because all members of the team are university students.
UniBo also importantly gives us autonomy and independence, providing us with a space where we can carry out all the activities necessary to reach our goals. Thanks to lecturers who are very supportive of the project, we also have access to lots of university labs where we can perform tests and other tasks with their assistance, and this for us is essential.
What does a typical day look like for a student on the UniBo Motorsport team?
The average UniBo Motorsport student heads to university in the morning, either for lessons or to revise for their exams. Then, in the late afternoon, they’ll go to the office, where they’ll find their team waiting for them to start work. Here, they apply everything they’ve learnt during their studies, all the while acquiring more knowledge on the ground, designing, creating and testing all sorts of parts that will eventually be incorporated into the prototype.
Depending on the time of year, when they’re in the office they’ll work on design/simulation projects or actually produce the parts themselves, from the electronics to the composite chassis. Then at the weekend, during the testing season, they work shoulder-to-shoulder with the riders and drivers, putting their prototypes to the test.
Of your partners, there are several names from the Motor Valley, such as the Autodromo di Imola, Lamborghini and the Ducati Foundation. How do they support your work during the year and in preparation for the competitions?
Every partner supports us in a different way and has different reasons for collaborating with us.
Our two main partners, Lamborghini and Ducati, provide us with both financial and technical support. The financial support enables us to purchase the commercial parts we need and to carry out the mechanical work required to create our prototypes. The technical support, on the other hand, is provided to us in different forms. Lamborghini, for example, welcomes us into its own factory so that we have somewhere to produce our carbon fibre monocoques.
Then there’s the Autodromo di Imola, which for two years has been hosting our customary “unveiling” event, where we present our prototypes and show our partners what we’ve been working on during the year. It’s a great networking opportunity too.
For you and the team, what does it mean to be a part of the Motor Valley?
For us, the Motor Valley is above all an opportunity. With its ecosystem of companies, plethora of experiences and engine-passionate people, it’s undoubtedly the most thriving region in Italy in the world of automation, mechatronics, cars and motorsports in general.
The Motor Valley represents a land that enables us to cultivate our passion and to grow in so many ways, including on a technical, personal and organisational level.
Let’s talk about competitions. How many other university teams do you race against and what kind of relationship do you have with each other?
In Formula SAE, worldwide there are around 550 teams, 270 of which are based in Europe. During any single competition, the number of teams signed up can vary between 50 and 100, distributed across various different categories: CV (Combustion Vehicle), EV (Electric Vehicle) and DV (Driverless Vehicle).
Then, for MotoStudent, in the main competition held in Aragón, there are around 80 international teams, split into two categories: Petrol and Electric.
The relationship between the teams is obviously competitive, but there are always friendly conversations that sometimes lead to fruitful collaborations and genuine friendships.
What are the competitions you take part in every year?
Formula SAE Italy, our home event, is the first competition that we take part in every year in Varano de’ Melegari. We then also take the entry tests to be in with a chance of competing in several other competitions across the rest of Europe each year, including FSG (Germany, Hockenheim Ring), FSA (Austria, RedBull Ring), FSEast (Mogyorod, Hungaroring) and FSS (Spain, Montmelò).
This year, we’ll be taking part in four major competitions: Formula SAE Italy (CV + EV), Formula Student Austria (EV), Formula Student East (CV) and Formula Student Alpe Adria (EV + CV).
For electric bikes, the main competitions are MotoStudent electric in Aragón and Moto Engineering Italy. Both are engineering-based competitions, so it isn’t the team that crosses the finish line first that wins, but rather the project that’s ranked best in terms of engineering and management, based on a selection of documents and presentations we have to submit.
Formula SAE is just around the corner: how do you feel? What are your expectations and which teams will you be keeping an eye on?
The ones to watch out for are usually the German teams: they typically lead the way throughout the entire championship. That said, we’re not particularly worried about the other teams. We always try to give it our all and take home the best result possible, within the limits of our own ability. But we’re absolutely buzzing, we can’t wait to take our prototypes onto the track!
What are the most satisfying moments of the project?
It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, there’s a lot of intense work and commitment, followed by the huge sense of gratification you get when you see the results. The main satisfaction is definitely when you come up with innovative solutions as a group. And it’s equally satisfying when you see the prototype taking shape as a consequence of your own hard work and commitment.
How will your UniBo Motorsport experience shape your future? Would you like to continue a career in motorsports?
This experience will have a huge influence on our careers. Every day, it pushes us to overcome our limits, to acquire new skills, to learn to work and collaborate as part of a team. The participants don’t just grow from a technical perspective, but from a human and interpersonal perspective too, and this is a crucial prerequisite for entering the working world, for making improvements and innovating.
Lots of students aspire to have a career in motorsports, and the UniBo Racing Team is an excellent springboard for achieving this goal. Then there are other students who want to end up working in the corporate world. It’s an experience that enables us to roam between different sectors and work out what the best path for our own professional future is.