Tuesday 28th October 2008 by C. Freeman
A man who was behind the design and build of a land-speed record-winning car visited Brooke Weston recently. David Ackroyd is the director of Formula Gravity, whose car, VXR Nimbus, reached an unpowered speed of 62mph at the International Gravity Sports Association World Cup Event in September to beat the existing record. The cars are launched from ramps onto tracks where their speeds are recorded.
Mr Ackroyd, a teacher, first got interested in designing unpowered cars after helping his son build a go-kart in 2000. Since then he has collaborated with students to develop the gravity racer and has founded Formula Gravity which supplies components and advice so schools and colleges can also build a racer as an educational project. At the moment around 35 schools are building cars with starter kits supplied by Formula Gravity, and they take about 100 hours each to complete.
Mr Ackroyd said: 'Building a gravity racer is an ideal school project as there's so much scope for students to get involved; from design and development, publicity, team management and promotion to driving the actual car.' He was at Brooke Weston to give a presentation to engineering students at the launch of the Engineering Education Scheme. He spoke of the difficulties he encountered when refining the VXR Nimbus, and also gave advice on managing a project from start to finish.
The Nimbus at Eastbourne.
He said: 'I designed a car out of aircraft quality plywood for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. We had some students who we thought would really benefit from this competition. That gave us an end-point, something to drive to; we thought it was way above us at the time, but luck came in and we ended up with a whole lot of really nice people who said 'yes, we'll make it happen' from industry, from education and from the Festival.'
Mr Ackroyd had a bit of insider knowledge as his brother worked on the design of the Thrust SSC jet-powered car which broke the land speed record in 1997. The gravity racer also uses some refinements, such as air-braking, achieved with a parachute which was specially commissioned from military suppliers Irvin-GQ.
Mr Ackroyd said: 'It began as a hobby and if you get a really good project and get enthused by it, it just takes your life over. Other people then got involved and we also had real expert help. The trick in designing a car like this is overcoming friction. It's streamlining but most of all it's research; the students finding the best wheels, the best tyres and refining the design to make it go as fast as it can.'
Gravity sports are becoming increasingly popular with street luge, downhill skateboard, classic luge, gravity bike, gravity racer and skateboard slalom events being held. More details including rules and forthcoming fixtures are available from the UK Gravity Sports Association.