Students power vehicles through the night for innovative race

Published: 06 Jun 2019

Teams of students will hurtle around a specially designed Palmyra track at speeds of more than 70kmh this weekend (June 8 and 9).

Eighteen hours of multi-race competition will mark the first BHP Whitsunday STEM Challenge – a race that will run through the night and push human power to its limits.

Five local teams will join 15 teams from across Queensland to test their human-powered vehicle (HPV) design and build skills and their physical stamina at Palmyra Dragway.

Racing kicks off at 1.30pm Saturday, with a drag race to decide grid allocation.

A show and shine at 2.35pm will then allow public access to the track and these aerodynamic vehicles.

The main race event starts at 4pm and runs until 10am on Sunday morning.

Mayor Greg Williamson said it was fantastic that council could support the BHP Whitsunday STEM Challenge through its Invest Mackay Events Attraction Program.

“This event is expected to attract a crowd of around 3000, with about 1000 of those coming from outside Mackay,” Cr Williamson said.

“An event like this has massive benefits for our region and our young people,” he said.

“Not only will it inject more than $700,000 into the economy, students from five of our local schools – Pioneer State High School, Mercy College, Northern Beaches State High School, St Patrick’s College and Sarina State High School – have embraced this challenge and the learning opportunities it presents.”

Mayor Williamson said the sky was the limit for this type of event.

“Maryborough has had a HPV race for 17 years that attracts 157 vehicles and the associated teams and spectators inject more than $2 million into their economy.”

Event organiser Michael Duggan said the STEM challenge was the part of the HPV Super Series of eight races, with Mackay being the most northern race.

He said not only did the students have to prepare their vehicles, they had to prepare themselves.

“The kids have to train for it – there’s a lot of physical endurance they have to do to prepare for 18 hours of racing, with drivers usually doing an hour or two each,” Mr Duggan said.

And it’s not just the physical preparation that’s important.  He said students in our region built, repaired, customized, ventilated and streamlined their individual vehicles.

“They learn a lot of engineering and maths skills, physics and science, even health and nutrition – and if something breaks on race day, they have to fix it, as teachers we aren’t able to interfere at all.

“You can teach theory all you want, but unless you can put it into practice kids don’t learn it – you can read things, lecture it, but actually getting in there and doing, that’s the best learner.”

Mr Duggan said HPV racing would grow in the region to be a major drawcard race each year but added that STEM racing would likely continue to evolve.

He said new STEM categories like drag racing CO2 canister-powered cars, drone racing and even a submarine challenge would be introduced next year.

Entry is $2 per adult (kids are free) or $5 for a car full.

For more information, check out Whitsunday STEM Challenge on Facebook.