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A formula for rapid success

a team of students is competing with professionals in the motorsport where grand prix star Lewis Hamilton honed his skills.

Blackpool and The Fylde College has put a team of students in charge of preparing and maintaining a racing car in the Formula Renault BARC championship in what the competition organisers say is a first for the sport.

Formula Renault has nurtured many motorsport stars, including Britain's latest Formula One sensation, who raced in the entry-level championship in 2001 and 2002.

Paul Higham, the college's race-team manager, said the students were involved in all the critical decisions affecting the car's performance.

He said: "We are giving them experience which would take them four years in the industry to get. We are giving them a fast track into motorsport.

"A private team wouldn't let you work on the car straight away. They'd get you to make the brews or fetch tyres."

The team of nine consists of six students on foundation or honours degree courses. They are responsible for race strategy and vehicle set-up. Three tutors advise them. An experienced racing driver, Craig Harris, takes the wheel.

Mr Higham said even tiny adjustments in response to weather conditions and the track could affect the lap speed by several seconds and mean the difference between success and failure.

On the team's first outing, at Donington Park in Derbyshire, the car came 26th out of 32. At the second attempt, at Oulton Park in Cheshire, it was hit by technical problems but finished 15th after the team's fine-tuning helped it regain ground.

Another two rounds the team had to miss because it could not afford to compete. It costs up to pound;3,000 each time the car races not counting accommodation for the team or damage the car might sustain.

The team intends to use this season to mark its presence in the championship, gather sponsors and try to compete in all rounds for next season, Mr Higham said.

Peter Graham, 22, from Northern Ireland, is part of the team and has just completed a foundation degree before moving onto an honours course next term. A car enthusiast who rebuilds engines in his spare time, he said the 4am race day starts were tough but worth it.

"You can't buy this experience. It's only because of this course that we've been given the opportunity," he said. "Hopefully, it will enable us to do a lot better."

Simon North, Renault BARC's championship manager, said the student team was an asset to the competition.

"It establishes an important link between motorsport and engineering students" he said. "Our championship provides a low-cost stepping stone for young drivers and engineers to higher levels of the sport."

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