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Hill climb champion Alex Summers captivates automotive students

Students posing with Alex's Hillclimb car

Motorsport is an ever-growing industry with high demand for races across all 4 corners of the earth. With technological advances and regulations that push drivers, engineers and designers’ abilities to the max, it gives us better racing experiences and keeps spectators on the edge of their seats.Our automotive students had their imaginations captured for the sport by a visit from British Hill Climb Championship winner, Alex Summers. He discussed his career as well as the process of bringing a car from a Computer aided design (CAD) concept to building and competing in the finished product.

To top off his intriguing talk Alex, along with his father Richard, had brought his current race car, for students to examine and investigate, with Alex on hand to talk through the design and technical choices of his machine.

“Hill climbing has a huge amount of technical freedom.” says Alex. “My car looks a bit like a Formula One car, the regulations have allowed for aerodynamic devices that wouldn’t be allowed in series such as Formula One or Touring Cars. You can have any engine, any weight.

“There are rules, but the specifications are wide open, its great from a technical point of view and from a performance point of view, there’s no fuel or tyre saving so it’s maximum performance, as fast as you can go, there’s no compromise.

“It’s also sustainable too – financially it’s shorter runs, there’s no need for long tyre and fuel strategies. It’s the best way to go fast, without the outlays of most motorsport.

“I’m very lucky, racing is in my family. My mum and my dad both compete in hill climbs, growing up there was always pictures of cars on the walls at home and when I was younger, my parents stopped racing and decided to help support us in karting when I was eight-years-old. The passion and enthusiasm they had helped us work up the levels.”

In college, Alex studied maths, physics and chemistry at A Level, but says he was not academic, being a more of a hands-on learner, before going on to study at the University of Bath. “I would recommend that if people can’t afford university, need to keep earning or are intimidated by the prospect of university, to look at degree apprenticeships. Throughout the industry, degree apprentices are widely recognised, and I personally feel they have a head start, being more adjusted to working on real projects as part of a team.

“CAD is such an important subject to study, especially for someone who wants to be a design engineer. People think it’s all about AI or 3D printing, but CAD is such an important and well remunerated skill. It’s also so diverse, if you can use the software, you can design bridges, buildings, race cars, planes; the possibilities are endless. I’ve even completely redesigned the layout of my house using it! It’s such a transferable skill.”

“This car wouldn’t be here without CAD, all the maths and theory I did at University helps as you have to have an understanding of it, but if you create a great design and you cannot use the tools, sketch, draw or use CAD, you’re very limited.”

At university, Alex met the team at McMurtry Automotive, creators of the Goodwood conquering Spéirling electric prototype car. “I was the test driver for the student racing team, McMurtry approached the University for some students to come on board, including somebody to take the role of a test driver, testing the Spéirling prototype alongside former Formula One driver Derek Bell.”

McMurtry have also more recently hired ex-Formula One driver Max Chilton, who Alex says was “a great hiring, an experienced character with a fantastic business brain with experience in marketing, branding and customer focus.”

“I did a run at Goodwood in 2022, they contacted me and asked me to cover for Max who was unavailable. My initial time was faster than his. However, on the Sunday, Max went on to break the Goodwood speed record with a time of 39.08 seconds.”

“I’d never been invited to Goodwood previously; it’s a prestigious event and the reputation thrives on everybody going there and having a good time. It’s not all about the racing, but the fans are so important, and you become an ambassador for motor racing, as well as bringing fans closer to the action. You must represent the brand, represent the sport and yourself, the event is bigger than anything you can imagine. It’s a complete dream come true!

Alex’s car, the award winning AFS P4t, was built from the ground up. Alex used his CAD training to develop the car so his wife and mother could also compete in it. “None of our cars were too comfortable for them; they weren’t ergonomically right. I specifically set out to design around shorter drivers.” The car won The Simms Medal from the Royal Automobile Club, an award given for ‘An Outstanding Contribution to Motoring Innovation’, recognising contribution to motoring innovation by individuals or small companies.

The car itself boasts 500bhp, it weighs 450kg, creates 500 kg of downforce and has a 0-60 of 2.6 seconds. It excels in its cornering, producing 3.5-4G when its going through the sharper corners.

Students had the opportunity to examine the car from top to bottom.

Alex also has raced in other events such as secret meets, track testing and historical racing days. “One of the cars we have is a Lola Formula 5000 car, which basically is a 60s Formula One style car with a Chevrolet V8 engine, which at certain tracks would rival its ford and Ferrari counterparts.”

Robert Adams, Automotive Technician, was pleased with the results of the sessions today. “It’s great to have something here for the students that’s different, that’s cool and gives them another perspective in the field they’re going into and how that relates to what they’re currently studying.

“It’s a pathway they can look at going into, there’s a lot of universities who offer courses in and have close links to motorsports, Alex has explained today that there are so many routes into motorsport, you don’t have to be a race driver or a mechanic to take part as there are so many jobs in motor racing.

“I’m really happy to see students enjoying a talk like this; they asked so many questions, been able to sit in the car and test the suspension. It’s been an engaging and interactive discussion and I hope we can have many more in years to come.”

If you’ve been inspired by Alex’s story and his visit to our automotive department, find out more about automotive and engineering or book onto an open event.