Leading the charge: Oxford Brookes Racing Team Lead on steering to Formula Student success

Team Lead Prescott Campbell
Prescott Campbell pictured at the launch of the 2022 Oxford Brookes Racing car. Image credited to Prescott Campbell.

As the Team Lead of the award-winning Oxford Brookes Racing (OBR), third year Motorsport Engineering student Prescott Campbell shares his excitement about guiding the University’s student racing team through a summer of competition. He discusses the challenges of designing and building a car, as well as the team’s ambitions on the track for the upcoming Formula Student competitions.

Tell us about your background in motorsport engineering, and what brought you to Oxford Brookes University? 
“My background in motorsport began by competing as a driver, eventually racing formula cars with the ambition to make it into the Indycar Series. I began pursuing an engineering path in motorsport in high school with an internship at a 3D-printing manufacturer back home in Southern California, where I designed custom car parts that were displayed at automotive and technology trade shows in Las Vegas. This was the experience that made me fall in love with seeing the physical results of my designs, and I realised the fast-pace of the motorsport engineering industry was the best place to fulfil that in my future career.

“I set my goal to become an engineer in Formula 1 and heard of OBR through an American alumni of the team working as a performance engineer. Once I found that OBR alumni were working in every Formula One team, I knew I needed to attend Oxford Brookes to give myself the best chance of achieving this goal.

“After my second year of studying I secured a placement in the Structural Engineering department at Williams F1, and at this point decided to stop racing cars to focus fully on my engineering dream. My experience at Williams F1 was very fulfilling and reinforced my current desire to work in Formula 1 after graduation.”

What is Formula Student and what are your ambitions for the team this season?
“Formula Student is an engineering competition for students from universities across the world, held annually at the world famous Silverstone Circuit. Competing teams design, build, test and race their own cars. This year the competition takes place from 17-21 July, and cars will be judged across the weekend on design, performance and endurance.

“Last year, at the 25th annual Formula Student competition, we finished third place overall and brought home eight trophies. This year our goal is to win the competition outright.

“We will also be competing in Formula Student Czech Republic this year, which takes place from 5-10 August.”

What does it mean to you to be Team Lead of OBR?
“I feel very fortunate to be the Team Lead of OBR. It gives me a great opportunity to develop leadership skills that I can apply later on in my career, hopefully when I find myself in a leadership position in industry. Having completed my placement with Williams F1 last year, I learned a lot of valuable lessons in terms of effective communication within a team, which put me in a great position to become Team Lead.

“We have several hundred students joining the OBR team every year, so it’s a great challenge but a very fulfilling one to get everyone to gel and work together towards creating and building the car we will compete with in the summer. 

“I enjoy the open culture that we have within a very diverse and international team, and having open discussions on how to constantly improve it with all members of OBR. I hope to inspire younger members of the team to continue this culture for both future Formula Student seasons and in the race teams they’ll go on to work for.”

What have been the primary challenges in designing and building the car this year, and what changes have you implemented compared to last year to enhance your chances of success?
“So far this season, many of the challenges we’ve faced have had to do with troubleshooting the complex all-wheel-drive EV (electric vehicle) powertrain. The team members responsible for the car’s electrics are mainly younger members this year, yet they’ve stepped up to the plate to learn quickly and apply effectively to resolve these issues for the whole team’s benefit.

“The build process for OBR24, our new challenger for this season, is nearly complete. Getting our car on track as soon as possible is very important, as it gives us time to rectify any mistakes or make necessary changes. Testing will also give our drivers as much driving experience as possible before competitions.
“The key focuses for OBR24 are improving reliability and finding performance through enhanced control of our four in-hub motors and aerodynamics. We’ve done this by rearranging the cooling system to reduce the running temperatures of our electrical components, with radiators now housed in side pods for better airflow. For greater efficiency and reduced lap times, we’re introducing adaptable energy deployment, regenerative braking, traction control, and torque vectoring, which allows us to vary the power at each wheel independently to achieve higher cornering speeds. We’ll be bringing a new rear wing, side wings, and diffuser to increase the car’s downforce, also making the car look very aggressive. Hopefully she’s as fast as she looks!”

What are the benefits of  being a member of OBR?
“Members of OBR have a competitive advantage when applying for placements and graduate roles because of the practical experience they gain, whilst having the opportunity to solve real problems. As part of the team, students are involved at every stage, from the concept and design of parts, to the manufacturing and assembly of the car. This is invaluable for gaining a perspective into the roles of machinists, technicians, and mechanics and allows team members to become well-rounded engineers for their future careers in the motorsport industry.

“There are no experience-based barriers for anyone wishing to become a part of the team and learn. Any student from any course, not just engineering, can join OBR. We often host ‘Learning Sessions’ for new joiners which enables them to learn about how they can best contribute to the team using their own strengths. Anyone interested in joining the team can follow our Instagram account at @oxfordbrookesracing, email us on oxbrookesracing@brookes.ac.uk, or check out our website.”

OBR was founded in 1999 and is the most successful UK team in the history of Formula Student UK, having placed as the top UK team on eight occasions. 

Gordana Collier, Head of the School of Engineering at Oxford Brookes, and the Principal Academic Adviser for OBR, said: “I am often asked what the secret of success is of this Formula Student team, and I believe it’s the learning that takes place in the classroom, combined with the practical learning that takes place throughout the project. 

“We provide the opportunity for students from any course across the university to join the team and gain hands-on experience of building the car, and learning from their mistakes by taking part in test drives. This helps to create a really competent team who enjoy success in the Formula Student competitions that we enter each year. 

“Prescott has been a fantastic Team Lead for this season and I am looking forward to seeing him guide us through the upcoming competitions.”