Team manager Dennis Gubbels reports that on Friday afternoon the car was starting to accelerate during a test drive at the test site in Belgium's Lommel, when it shook and came to a grinding halt.
“Shortly after that, the driver saw smoke escaping from the side of the car,” says Gubbels. “Two seconds later he was standing on the tarmac.” This is a requirement imposed on all Formula Student teams, says Gubbels: a fully strapped-in driver must be able to exit the car independently within five seconds. “All the drivers practice this rigorously and fortunately our driver certainly managed it.”
The fire needed only a couple of minutes to leave the URE15 a burnt-out wreck. The fire service, which had been alerted, arrived quickly but regrettably nothing could be done to save the car. Gubbels: “Using an infrared sensor, the fire service eventually checked whether the fire was entirely extinguished, as it is often quite a challenge to put out a fire in an electric vehicle. Afterwards, without delay, we brought the remains of the car to our workshop in Momentum on the TU/e campus.”
No one was injured during the incident. Gubbels: “Although lithium batteries are always a risk, the car's safety systems did their job and ensured that no one was hurt. We're talking about countless sensors and fire-retardant parts, such as the special barrier between the battery compartment and the driver.” That is one of the few parts still recognizable, reports Gubbels. “So clearly this barrier did its job and helped Bart get out unscathed.” For the rest, the team manager reports, a detailed inspection will be made of the remains of the car in order to analyze the fire and learn lessons for future systems.
This is a drama for the current team, says Gubbels. “Before the end of the day Friday, communicating the news on campus and online, we let all the team members know what had happened and obviously everyone was shocked.” Owing to the fire, the thank-you day held for URE's partner companies can't go ahead this year. And team members, too, were supposed to get the chance to drive the car, an option that now can't be offered.
A much more disappointing consequence, reports Gubbels, is that the upcoming URE team will now no longer have the URE15 to use as a guinea pig for new innovations. “Though, of course, everything we have learned with the URE15 will be at their disposal. While they can still apply this knowledge to the development and construction of the future URE16, they'll miss out on having its predecessor to hand to test certain things, and being able to use it for parts that are otherwise not yet available.”
“All in all, it was a sad day,” says Gubbels, “the only bright spot is that all the safety functions, like the materials that delay the spread of flames, worked properly. Still, this was certainly not the season's end we had envisaged. Nonetheless, we are confident that we can get over this setback and come back stronger. And we'll do this in cooperation with our partners and friends.”
The team at University Racing Eindhoven has chosen not to release any images of the burnt-out wreckage to the media at this stage.