After twisting down the cramped stairwell to Kerr Hall’s basement, one of the first things you’d lay eyes on is a race car.
The basement is the workplace of Toronto Met Formula Racing (TMFR), Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) very own racing team.
Their garage shows just about every sign of success. Used car parts line the walls, the tables are scattered with concept pages and tools and a grease-like scent fills the room. Messy, sure—but also wildly impressive.
“My favourite part of the team has to be the people,” said team captain Nicholas Medrano. “They’re what got me in it, what kept me in it and they’re why I spend as much time on the team as I do.”
No sport compares to the likes of Formula 1 (F1), where cars zip by at over 300km/h, while drivers push the limits of their machines and themselves.
The sport witnessed a recent explosion in popularity as well, mostly due to the hit Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive
, which is said to have more than doubled viewership of F1 in Canada, according to a 2021 article in the Toronto Star
At TMU, F1 fanatics don’t actually have to look too far to scratch their Formula racing itch. Right here on campus is a team of over 40 people, ranging from engineering students to business students to journalism students, all balancing busy schedules to contribute year-round to the team on and off the track.
“I ate up and am still eating up every moment of [ Drive to Survive ],” said Medrano. “But 100 per cent that's not the only conversation in the room here, which I feel is really great.”
This summer, the team is scheduled to compete at Formula SAE ( Society of Automotive Engineers) Michigan, which brings together young students from all over the world. For any aspiring automotive engineers, it’s the most anticipated event on the calendar.
Last year, all the team’s hard work paid off when they placed first in Ontario and 15th internationally.
“We really used last year as a huge learning experience and we got a lot out of last year’s car,” said Medrano. “The feeling [this year] is nervousness but there’s definitely hope because I think we're in a really good position.”
The cars are a single-seated, open-wheel design with front and rear wings. But with a budget that’s just a tiny fraction of that of professional F1 teams, it makes TMFR’s work all the more impressive—not to mention the fact that they’re all full-time students too.
An important part of the team’s success, of course, is the driver. TMFR'S controls system lead Josh Tan Ngo, said drivers must have at least one year of experience on the team and hold a lead or apprentice position before being eligible to drive the car. And whoever is in that seat will have to extract the maximum amount out of the car, while making sure not to exceed the limits and ruin the hard work of the team.
“We can’t just put any kid in the car,” said Tan Ngo, who is also working in driver selection this year. “We spend 8-10 months designing then building the car…and if they destroy it, there goes our competition.”
The driver will be very important for TMFR’s on track success this year. But they also have a business team that looks to win off-track accomplishments as well.
Led by third-year business management student Isabelle Bonello, the team found the most success in Michigan last year through the FSAE’s static competitions, which consists of a business presentation, a cost analysis and engineering design.
The business team took the role of a race car company and had a case study where they had to explain and justify their plan on charger infrastructure, while touching on the supply chain of electric vehicle (EV) specific parts and an update on the labour force. Bonello and company competed internationally in the electric vehicle competition.
The TMFR team placed first overall in this category.
“We brought home the trophy. It was super cool to be a part of,” she said. “We also came first in Ontario, so that’s also a big point we make [to sponsors].”
TMFR will be hoping to replicate last year's success in Michigan this June. Though whatever happens, they clearly have a lot to be proud of already.
Money is easily the biggest barrier in Formula racing but at TMFR, any student is a conversation away from getting involved. This is a passion project unlike any other being carried out here at TMU.
Although the work the team does may seem time consuming, Bonello puts it best.
“When it becomes something that you absolutely love, it doesn’t feel like work,” she said.