BEACON FALLS — The members of Hawks Fabrication and Design started with a heap of aluminum tubular in the fall and finished with a first-place winning electric car in the spring.
The team — Woodland Regional High School students in Bill Carangelo’s manufacturing class — won first place in the novice division at the Connecticut Electrathon May 20 at the Lime Rock race track in Lakeville.
“It’s pretty cool, thinking back to day one we just had a pile of aluminum tubular, that’s all [the electric car] was, and just started from scratch. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” said Woodland senior Drew Korzon, who, along with junior Tom Lawlor, drove the car on race day.
The Connecticut Electrathon is an annual electric car race where teams of students build three-wheeled vehicles that are powered solely by batteries and fit one driver. The point of the race is not to cross the finish line first, but to complete the most laps in an hour.
The race featured over 40 teams of students from schools throughout New England and New York. The Woodland team tallied 44 laps around the half-mile serpentine race track — six more than the second-place team in the novice division and eight laps shy of the overall winner.
This was the second year that Woodland competed in the race. The team attributed the success this year to learning from last year’s mistakes — most notably the weight of the car.
Last year, the team used a steel frame that was already built and handed down from a previous class. The weight of the steel, and having the batteries in the back of the car, caused the rear tire to blowout.
The aluminum tubular used this year meant the frame was much lighter.
“That helps a lot with the weight so we don’t get as many blowouts,” Woodland senior Jordan Baer said.
The team also distributed the weight of the batteries and motor more evenly this year, and the body of the car was made with a light and shatterproof corrugated polycarbonate.
The students, 11 in all, built the car from scratch. They started with a scaled-down balsa wood model then used PVC pipes to build a real-sized mock frame to minimize cost and waste while maximizing labor.
Aside from learning how to bend and weld pipe, and wire an electric system, the students also picked up some marketing skills along the way. The team secured sponsorships from local business to partially offset the cost of building the car, which Carangelo estimated at $3,000.
By the time the team did its fourth test drive on the school’s track, the car ran for 26 miles continuously with no issues, Carangelo said.
“We knew we were in good shape,” Carangelo said.
On the morning of the race, the team was confident.
“We just had a feeling that we were going to do good this year,” Korzon said.
That confidence was justified.
Just one lap in, Korzon said, two cars had crashed and another was in pit row. Korzon simply drove around the accidents.
The car averaged 22 mph and got up to over 30 mph during the race. Aside from switching drivers halfway through the race, the car didn’t have to stop once.
One particular feature of Woodland’s car attracted a lot of attention — the full-frontal suspension.
Korzon recalled taking a turn and the car in front of him going up on two wheels. Thanks to the full-frontal suspension, Korzon was able to pass the car out on the inside and keep moving.
As the hour on the track was winding down the team knew it had done well, but wasn’t aware how well.
“I didn’t know to expect a trophy. I didn’t know to expect first place,” Korzon said. “I knew we did definitely a lot better than last year, and it was a good run.”
“It just took a while for it all to sink in,” added Carangelo about winning the race.
The team is already looking to next year. Carangelo said the plan is to enter the car in a race in November — teams can enter the same car twice before having to redesign it — and start construction of a second car.
Although they took first this year, the Hawks will continue to learn from their miscues.
“There are still things we need to take note of for these guys to improve on next year,” Korzon said.
The following students were the designers and fabricators of the Electrathon car: Korzon, Lawlor, Baer, Alec Richards, Dustin Cha, John Cleary, Hayden Bartlett, Tim Deschenes, Albert Herb, Jeff Webster and Collin Blewitt.