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Wood wired for speed

TENSION ON the starting grid mounts as the racing cars line up, their drivers braced for the green light. And they're off.

No, not Schumacher in his Ferrari at Le Mans, but pupils taking part in the Formula One in Schools challenge. The cars hurtling down the track may only be miniature dragsters made of balsa wood, but they do reach a blink-and-you-miss-it 80mph.

And the cloud of steam from the CO2 canisters powering them adds to the atmosphere in the sports hall at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Aside from the high-octane fun the competition, sponsored by Jaguar, brings engineering to life.

Pupils from 25 schools taking part in the North Wales regional heats of the international competition had designed the mini-racing cars themselves.

Their drawings were then sent to the university's design and technology department to be turned into lean, mean racing machines.

"The competition brings together design and technology education, offering children the opportunity to use CadCam software in an exciting package that really fires-up the imaginations and enthusiasm of the pupils taking part," says John Hughes, director of the university's education, design and technology courses.

Winner Ysgol Morgan Llwyd from Wrexham - aptly rebranded Mellt y Morgan (Morgan Lightning) - had also had team shirts and business cards printed.

"We worked together on the design over three weeks," team manager Myra Booth-Cockroft, 13, explains, showing the car and the photographs that inspired it.

"We used an upside-down aeroplane shape because a plane flies on up-force, and we thought if we flipped it over it would be down-force and the car wouldn't go flying off the track."

Resource manager Owen Woolrich, 14, adds: "We also looked at things designed for speed, like the leopard and the shark. When the car came back we painted it, and it needed work on it to make it go faster, But this is the first time we've seen it race."

The six-pupil team also had a secret weapon: design and technology teacher Paul Griffiths had worked with last year's winning team while on a placement.

"It's a good competition and I thought they should go for it," he says.

"This is the first year Morgan Llwyd has taken part and the pupils got a lot out of it, working together on the design, streamlining it, using the computer software and making new friends."

They now go on to the UK finals in Birmingham in January to fight for the national title and have their eyes fixed firmly on the podium.

"Then we'll go to Germany for the international title," says Myra.

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