RRC Mechanical Engineering Team Will Finish Battery-Powered Car Despite Being Shortlisted for Race

By Noah Cote

Bright fluorescent lights shine down on tables piled with wrenches, wheels, and batteries inside the mechanics shop at Red River College’s Notre Dame Campus.

Inside SpaRRCky workspace, Notre Dame campus, crew members Riley McLeod (Left) and Brad Thidrickson (Right) fasten SpaRRCky’s carbon fibre hood onto its base.

A student in a grey ball cap and safety glasses dashes from table to table, picking up items and explaining what they are and what they do. He approaches a table in the back corner of the shop and starts tugging at a giant bag that’s vacuum sealed around a black carbon fibre object that looks like an upside-down canoe.

“This is the top half of the car, we still have to make some adjustments for it.” said Brad Thidrickson, 20, peeling the bag off the piece of carbon fibre.

Thidrickson is a Mechanical Engineering Technology student who, along with five to seven others, has dedicated every Wednesday since Jan. 2016, to building “SpaRRCky.”

SpaRRCky is a battery-electric powered prototype vehicle that Brad and the rest of the crew plan to race in April at the Shell Eco-marathon competition in Sonoma, California.

But Thidrickson and the crew aren’t building an electric car for extra credits or bonus marks, or even as a final project.

“It’s all volunteer. Seven of us were hired by the college over the summer, I guess we were considered Applied Research? We don’t really know,” Brad said, laughing.

Oct. 17, 2017. Inside SpaRRCky workspace, Notre Dame campus, crew member Riley McLeod checks a mold fitting against SpaRRCky’s front wheels.

SpaRRCky is a labour of love for the crew and Leon Fainstein, the Mechanical Engineering instructor.

“I’m a volunteer. It’s not part of my coursework, or any program,” said Fainstein over the phone. “I do it because the opportunity of teaching and learning is unparalleled.”

Fainstein has dedicated himself to helping his students in all aspects of their learning. He looks at SpaRRCky in the same light as a previous project, the “Red River Raycer,” which won four North American Solar Challenge awards for the college in 2004-05.

“I was heavily involved with the RRC solar car. I was showing it to a group of my students two years ago and they asked me if they could do something similar,” said Fainstein. “I said sure, all you’ve got to do is start working on it, and they did.”

The success of the Red River Raycer gave Red River College a boost in prestige, and the students today still revere it.

“(SpaRRCky is) a continuation on the solar car, battery-electric is the way of the future,” said Riley McLeod, 19, while standing in front of a mission statement and schematic for SpaRRCky hanging on the wall in the shop.

Thidrickson and McLeod agree that universities and colleges have the power to influence breakthroughs in technology that shape the world, and volunteering their time to engineer a clean energy vehicle is a way of making that happen.

“Battery is obviously a lot cleaner than burning gas, maybe hydro, but there’s plenty of electricity here, that’s not an issue, it’s all renewable,” said Thidrickson. “That’s a part of it.”

One hundred teams are slotted to race in the Shell Eco-marathon, and on Oct. 18 the SpaRRCky crew was hit with the news that they’d been ranked 18 on a waiting list of 40 for entry to the competition.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Thidrickson in a phone call. “We don’t want to be on a waiting list.”

But the crew sees the waiting list only as another speed-bump, not a road block.

“We’ll finish the car either way,” said Thidrickson. “We’ll wait and see, hopefully we can get in this year.”

Until then, they continue to spend their Wednesdays calibrating and fine-tuning SpaRRCky eagerly awaiting confirmation for the chance to pit their hard work against the rest of the teams at the Shell Eco-marathon, come April.