It wasn't quite a photo finish, but it was really close. Crossing the finish line with a time of 31.12 seconds, NYUAD's pedal car team (AKA the Purple Flash) came in fifth out of 17 teams at Corniche Beach Customs, a competition to create the best F1 pedal car in both speed and design.
Although the team had ambitious initial plans to transform the pedal car so that the drivers would sit one in front of the other (rather than side by side), time constraints led them to the simplest most effective design. "We decided as a team to go for speed over looks, yet wanted to have a good-looking finished product," said Juan Felípe Beltrán, NYUAD Class of 2014, one of the drivers. This led them to a "Mario Kart-style design" for the pedal car, which wowed the crowd with its matte-black paint job, purple splatters, and LED lightrails.
As for speed, the team went with Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman's principle of "lighter is better." In addition to sawing off any unnecessary metal, including the fenders and some of the crossbars, the team also removed one of the steering wheels and its column, and made sure the tires had as much pressure as possible. However, "this didn't result in a big enough performance advantage," said team leader János Kun, NYUAD Class of 2014, "so we decided to change the gears, which gave us a huge boost in top speed."
In fact, installing larger gears for the front pedals (controlled by the secondary driver), moving the secondary seat back, and extending the handlebar for the primary driver resulted in more effective pedaling and steering, and contributed to the team's impressive race time.
On race day, the Purple Flash was able to squeeze in two practice runs on the F1 Fan Zone course and make any necessary adjustments before reporting to the starting line for the real deal. The team's decision to swap the position of the two drivers — Beltrán and Eric Johnson, NYUAD Class of 2014, who provided unmatched pedal car expertise and "whose contributions with the power tools deserve another thanks from all of us," Kun noted — resulted in a considerable 5-second improvement, from around 38 seconds on the first run to approximately 33 seconds on the second run.
In the end, only 1 second separated the Purple Flash from the No. 2 team. And the time gap between the teams that placed third and fourth was just 0.01 seconds. The team that took No. 1, however — the Falcons (two exchange students from Verna Mathematical School in Bulgaria) with a final time of 27.97 seconds — "were in a different league," Kun said, "but we couldn't figure out why because they hid all of their machinery under their bodywork!"
Although NYUAD didn't place for prizes in speed or design, the challenge, Beltrán said, "was a very empowering experience. Being able to modify something with my own hands, see the progress of our work, and finally race it, it made me confident, not only in my ability to do hands-on work, but to learn from my classmates — most of whom were much better versed in the art of pedals than me."
For Kun, who helped procure additional items for the car, the opportunity also provided the chance to see another side of Abu Dhabi, "especially the Mussafah industrial district," he said, "which is just like India, only filled with the remnants of exotic cars." In his eyes, the Purple Flash took home an award in an entirely different category than speed or design. Giving props to Beltrán and Johnson for their skilled driving, Kun noted the "legitimate wheelie" at the start of the race, which, to him, "won us the 'Coolest Start Ever In the History of Pedal Car Racing' award."