Manatee students claim national crown in F1 racing

toconnor@bradenton.comMay 13, 2013 

The Phoenix Racing Team of Manatee County rose from the ashes of losing two teammates in the stretch run of preparation to claim a national crown Sunday with a fiery one-second dash to the finish line.

The new team -- four students from three Manatee County schools -- captured the USA Society for Automotive Engineers F1 in Schools National Championship. The two-day competition pitted prep teams from across the country at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

"This is a dream come true," said freshman Aly Cote, Phoenix Racing team manager. "We built this team in just five short weeks after two key members were not able to compete."

Phoenix Racing also won the Best Engineered Car Award for ingenuity shown in its balsa car design.

In F1 in Schools, middle and high school students design and manufacture identical, miniature, 8-ounce, CO2-powered balsa wood race cars. Phoenix Racing's champion car traveled a 60-foot track in just over a second, reaching 60 mph.

Phoenix Racing's team includes Cote, Lakewood Ranch High School; freshman Sheel Patel, design engineer, Southeast High School; sophomore Joseph Komor, graphic designer, Southeast High School; and eighth-grader Merritt Kendzior, Johnson Middle School.

The victory surprised everyone involved, including team adviser Margi Nanney and Cote.

"To be honest I had no hope and a lot of doubt preparing for it," Cote said. "About a month before I told mom I didn't think we would be able to do it."

The F1 in Schools Program is based out of Southeast High's Engineering Department under Nanney.

"I've coached teams since 2005-06 and I didn't expect them to finish as high as they did," Nanney said. "But Manatee County has a reputation for that."

Cote's confidence grew as the competition drew near.

"It was probably about two weeks after that I remember seeing the car and the board being put together and portfolio was moving along, that I began to think we could compete," she said.

In addition to racing, F1 team competition includes a 10-minute verbal presentation, 30-minute engineering interview and a large display must be designed and constructed.

"We worked from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. after school and on weekends to learn the F1 in Schools process to design and build our cars, portfolio and verbal presentation," Cote said. "We are very proud for Manatee County schools and to be able to represent our country at the World Finals in Texas this fall."

Nanney said the two departures created by school obligations gave added impetus to the Phoenix team name, she said.

"The students picked that name," Nanney said. "It's a long-lived bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor. They also wanted to follow the 2010 legacy of the world champion Southeast High team."

In 2010, Southeast High's Unitus Racing won the world championship in Singapore. Now, this Manatee County team will have a chance to claim the 2013 world crown at the 30-team F1 in Schools World Final in Austin, Texas, in November in conjunction with the Circuit of the Americas F1 Grande Prix.

This is the first time the world event has been held in the United States. It has previously been held in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Funds and in-kind services totaling an estimated $5,000 helped the Phoenix Racing entry through sponsors Two Scoops Ice Cream, the Mileo Group, JBTN Plastics, Trimbach Artistry and Rapid Prototyping Services and the Southeast High School Engineering Department.

The next level of competition will require roughly $20,000, so it's back to the fundraising drawing board for the U.S. champion Phoenix F1 Racing Team.

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