They will never tyre of this event

The challenge to build your own car and race it is one that teenagers are geared up for, as Jean McLeish reports

Jean McLeish

It's a competition that offers a heady mix of challenges - first you design and build your own electric car and then you drive it as far as you can for four hours around a racetrack.

For teenagers who are still too young to get behind the wheel on public roads, it's an exciting opportunity to drive without breaking the law. The bonus for teachers is that it's a chance to see children learn and smile simultaneously.

This year, 500 Scottish pupils from more than 40 secondary and primary schools, engineering clubs and youth groups came to Grampian Transport Museum at Alford in Aberdeenshire for the Scottish heat of Greenpower Challenge.

The Greenpower Education Trust runs this national engineering competition annually, culminating in a nail-biting final at Goodwood Motor Circuit in October. The idea is to make engineering a bit more sexy for schools, showcasing the James Bond end of the industry, as well as highlighting a greener mode of transport.

The cars are quieter and slower than anything James Bond has ever driven, with speeds up to 30 or so miles per hour, but this doesn't seem to lessen the appeal for the young people, their parents and teachers.

Pupils design and race cars they have built from scratch or from basic kits they can buy from Greenpower, with events across the age range for 9- to 11-year-olds, 11 to 16s and 16 to 25s.

This year, Aberdeenshire fared well against competition from across Scotland, and members of Grampian Transport Museum's Young Engineers Club won the Formula 24 event for those aged 9 to 16.

Four Alford Academy pupils took turns behind the wheel of GTM's Alford Rocket and will now take part in the final at Goodwood in October.

It's an exciting prospect for Martyn Robathan, Nathan Vickers, Fraser Pope and Callum Fraser who will race at Goodwood with Jordan Alborough from Auchnagatt Primary. Another Aberdeenshire team from Dunecht Primary won the race for 9- to 11-year-olds.

The museum's Young Engineers Club is run by former engineer Paul Lawson, and they have won a place in the final three of the five times they have taken part. "It's absolutely amazing there. Most kids young and old dream of going to Goodwood," Mr Lawson says.

"It went quite well. There weren't any problems. You have to see how far you can go in the time given and I think we did about 75 miles," says Martyn Robathan, from S3 at Alford Academy.

The youngest team member is 12-year-old Jordan Alborough from Auchnagatt, who has a fascination for engineering. "It's just cars and motorbikes and just engines really," says Jordan.

The other team-mates are all in S3 at Alford. Callum Fraser says: "I want to be an engineer when I'm older, so I think it might help me and I might be able to put it on my CV.

His friend Fraser Pope says: "I think I'll know the track better this time, because last year was my first time at Goodwood But it's a really good track for racing on because it's massive."

Teammate Nathan Vickers is looking forward to his third final at Goodwood. So what's the secret of their success? "Good drivers, good cars - not revealing any secrets," he says.

Back in the driving seat

Three days after the race and the Alford Academy Young Engineers Club are straight back in the driving seat - planning modifications to their car for next year's competition.

This year, the school's club won the Formula 24 award for Best Presented Team - recognising their team work and efforts to win sponsorship.

There is healthy rivalry between them and Grampian Transport Museum's Young Engineers Club, which meets on Saturdays just down the road. Some pupils are so keen, they go to the transport museum's club on Saturdays and the school's club on Tuesdays.

After the bell to go home, the school's club meets in the academy's workshop - a paradise of bolts and benches and oily rags, where they build cars and fix up anything else that comes their way.

"It was an F24 Endurance Race over a period of four hours, so we have six batteries and they've got to last us the whole of the four hours," says Jamie Rae from Alford's Young Engineers Club. "We've got to try to do the most amount of laps possible and not run out of battery power."

The team has been working hard on its design features, constantly tweaking and developing new strategies to boost its performance. "We bring ideas to the table and look at how we modify the car - make it go faster and get the lap times down a bit," explains 14-year-old Jamie.

One of their drivers, Cameron Henderson, 14, is from a farming background: "Dad gave a bit of money earlier on this year, so we could get the car and the body and what not. He's an engineer himself, so he likes to come in and help now and again," says Cameron.

The father of Cameron Cobban, one of the other boys, is an engineer and supported the team's efforts to secure pound;2,000 sponsorship towards costs from Talisman and Wood Group. But the investment came on condition every minute of activity on the project was accounted for.

"It was to give the kids the opportunity to know that in industry every minute costs money," says Joel Sande, who runs the club.

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Jean McLeish

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