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Brentwood's F1 team cruises to the national competition

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Members of Brentwood High School's F1 team are headed to the national level of the competition. They are (from left) resource manager Luke O'Shea, team manager Drew Gross, graphic engineer Taylor Salak and manufacturing leaders Ryan Vickless and Justin Kemmler. Design engineer Josh O'Neil is not shown.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
This was Brentwood High School's F1 team's winning car at the state competition.

The speed — and innovative marketing — of that tiny red, silver and black Vipera car that is fueled by carbon dioxide, helped send Brentwood High School's “Formula 1 in Schools” team to the national level of competition.

“With our car right now, I believe we can beat the world record,” said Brentwood senior Ryan Vickless, 17.

Vickless was a bit more confident in the car's abilities than his teammates. But, they hope improvements made during the next several weeks — decreasing the weight and improving the speed and accuracy of the tiny car — will help them to excel at the national competition, set for May 9 to 11 in Detroit at the Michigan International Speedway, and perhaps propel them to the World competition in Texas later this year.

Students on Brentwood High School's first “F1 team” were one of the top four teams at the state competition on March 9, with the fastest car and best marketing and sponsorship at the event.

They advanced to the national level of competition, where they will race their balsa wood car along a 20-meter metal track, in hopes of securing victory. They also are judged on sponsorship, marketing and presentation.

Brentwood Middle School has had a “F1 team” for the last six years. That ended this year and instead a high school team was formed as part of the new “Engineering 2” class, taught by Beau Sedlar.

“Engineering 2” students selected a project to complete during the course. Their options: participation in the school's F1 in School's team or making a hover craft, chain reaction mechanism or making a potato gun.

While making potato guns was a tempting choice, they said, six students selected the “F1 in Schools” project. They chose to participate in the F1 project instead because they could achieve a goal by participating in a competition and getting to the next level, said Brentwood junior Drew Gross, 16, who has been participating in F1 projects at Brentwood for the last five years, either as a competitor or advisor.

“You can really go places with this,” Gross said.

Each year, Brentwood students said, they've improved their product through practice and seeing what other school's have done with their cars. Last year, Brentwood's middle school group, “Team Sabertooth,” also advanced to the national competition.

“Every year has gotten so much better,” Gross said. “Each year, we knew more what we were doing.”

“Last year, when we went to nationals, we didn't know what to expect. It was just a learning process,” said Brentwood freshman Luke O'Shea, 14, who participated on Brentwood's middle school team last year.

Much of the work is done outside of the school day. Students spent as many as 20 hours a week after school working on the project for the state competition, they said.

They started in December brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes.

They designed about 20 cars on the computer, but only built four.

Each team member had a project: O'Shea was the resource manager; Gross, the team manager; Brentwood senior Taylor Salak, the graphic engineer; Vickless and Brentwood senior Justin Kemmler, manufacturing leaders and Josh O'Neil, the design engineer.

Salak worked to market the car, contacting more than 50 Pittsburgh area businesses seeking sponsorships, she said.

O'Shea handled PhotoShop. That was a daunting task for someone who had never used the digital imaging software.

“PhotoShop is not a forgiving software,” O'Shea said. “It doesn't like people.”

Kemmler tested the vehicles that Gross and O'Neil designed in a virtual wind tunnel to test their speed. Vickless handled building the platform and presentation area.

The fastest car the Brentwood team made took 1.112 seconds to go 20 meters on the metal track.

Students participating in the project said they love their class.

“I want to be an engineer, so I'm trying to take as many classes like this as I can,” Gross said. “I like being creative and doing things with my hands, instead of learning facts all day.”

Building and designing objects and structures in class makes school fun, they said.

“I look forward to it every day,” Gross said.

The best part of making it to the national competition, though, is the road trip.

“I'm pumped,” Vickless said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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