Interview by Afroditi Adrianou, chief of the Democritus Racing Team

It was 2015, when a group of eight Industrial Engineering students of the Democritus University of Thrace, passionate about motorsports and mechanical engineering, founded the Democritus Racing Team. Sooner than anticipated, this small group grew into a 60-member formula student team.

They named their first project “Argo”, after the famous mythical ship that was thought to be the strongest and fastest of its time.

Argo is a racecar, powered by a 4-cylinder, 6-speed Yamaha XJ600 engine with 75 Hp. Its top speed is at 120 km/h, and it can reach 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds. It weighs 249 kg when fully loaded with fuel, oil and coolant. It is structured with a tubular chassis and bears a double wishbone suspension system.

Argo has competed twice in its lifetime: once in Italy’s FSAE competition in 2019, coming in 22nd out of 46 competing teams, and once in the Netherland’s FSN competition this year (2021), coming in 6th out of 27 teams. This was Argo’s highest achievement, and it came as a result of several technical improvements on the racecar and of the team’s better planning and operational efficiency.

Naturally, setting up the team was not an easy task. Far from it, it posed a big challenge originally and continues to do so today,” explains Afroditi Adrianou, Chief of the Democritus Racing Team.

From the beginning, our University encouraged us to pursue our vision and helped us actualize it, by providing us with our own workspaces. However, there is a series of recurring issues each year, that are part of the process, such as recruiting the right people for the team, acquiring sponsors etc.”

Electric future

Argo’s track record may have been impressive but that’s all in the past.

Our team’s plans for the future are focused on our upcoming electric racecar,” says A. Adrianou.

For some years now, the competitions in which we race have both a category for Combustion Vehicles and one for Electric Vehicles. In 2019, after competing in Italy’s FSAE competition in the Combustion Vehicles class, we had to make a choice. It was to either continue developing solely Combustion Vehicles or to begin planning for the development of Electric ones as well.

The future of the automotive industry is electric, and this is very important to us as Engineers. We strive to always be cognizant of the trends and the new technologies in the industry.

We also want to constantly challenge ourselves. As a team, our Mission Statement is to always make the impossible possible for Greek Universities. We designed and manufactured the first gasoline-powered racecar of the Democritus University of Thrace. Now, we want to create the University’s first electric racecar.

Design and simulations for the new racecar are in process. We have secured a big part of the necessary funds, thanks to companies, such as Systems SUNLIGHT, BETA CAE Systems, Lancom Data Center, Jamsport Suspension Systems, Navios Maritime Holdings, Thagopoulos Car Dealership, Hellenic Aerospace Industry and Prisma Electronics. Also, we have already acquired several parts of the vehicle, such as the motor, the motor driver, and the circuit boards.

Finally, we have established partnerships that are integral to achieving our goal, with University Laboratories, namely the Mechanical Design Laboratory (MeDiLab), the Micro- and Nanotechnology Laboratory (MNTLab) and the Mechatronics and Systems Automation Laboratory (MeSA Lab). Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support and guidance of professor Pantelis Mpotsaris.”

Women power

The team consists of about 60 students from several Engineering Departments. A three-step recruitment process is applied in order to match the selected candidates to the most fitting sub-team. Students are informed on the opportunities available and then a series of workshops, tests and interviews follows. Selection is based on key-aspects such as drive, will to work and will to invest time in the team rather than the year of study, department, gender etc.

We have noted some trends regarding these characteristics, such as a higher participation of Industrial Engineers and a higher participation of male students,” Adrianou admits. “But in the last year or so, we have also noticed a higher participation of Electrical Engineers and of female students. We believe that our shift towards Electrification and the fact that the team has a history of strong female leadership (three out of the four Team Chiefs have been female students) have encouraged the change in the aforementioned trends.”

Located in Xanthi: Advantage or disadvantage?

Having Xanthi as our base has both advantages and disadvantages,” Adrianou says. “Naturally, most major events or exhibitions and most companies are situated in the capital (Athens) and Thessaloniki. Being in any place other than these two cities requires extra time and money that need to be invested for transportation of people and materials.

However, having Xanthi as our base has a major advantage: the local community of people and businesses has a much stronger connection than the communities of much larger cities. We receive incredible support from the community of Xanthi in many ways. Many businesses in the region –from internationally recognized companies, like Systems Sunlight, to smaller local ones– help the team achieve its goals and the locals show great enthusiasm for what we do.

We feel that we are a part of Xanthi and Xanthi, by supporting us, feels that it’s a part of our team.”

The interview is published in the November/December 2021 of Greek Business File,  available here.