Last week, Rani Dekel was doing doing donuts on the streets of Jerusalem in a blue and orange Formula race car with hundreds of thousands cheering him on.
On Sunday, the car’s skeleton sat in a bare laboratory at Ben-Gurion University in the southern city of Beersheva, its colorful siding stacked on a shelf in the corner and its essential parts shipped off to auto workshops across Israel.
But Dekel doesn’t mind losing his car. In a couple of months, he’ll have built a new one.
Dekel is part of a team of 35 Ben-Gurion automotive engineering students in the midst of a yearlong project — to design and construct a Formula race car that four of them will drive in an international competition in Italy in September.
“Building the car is super intense,” Dekel said. “It’s your whole life. It’s your focus. You get there and you’re showing what you planned and built and dreamed about.”
Dekel’s car was the only Israeli-made vehicle in last week’s Jerusalem Formula show, the biggest auto racing event in the country’s history.
In Formula 1 racing, drivers sit in low cars built by leading European carmakers such as Ferrari and Mercedes and careen around twisting tracks at speeds in excess of 200 mph. The brand is especially popular in Europe. Israel has no car industry, let alone a motor sports league, so a delegation of auto racers zooming around Jerusalem was thrilling for locals. The show featured top international auto racers doing laps, spins and donuts — a spinning maneuver — in the shadow of the Old City walls.
But while a reported 250,000 Israeli racing fans had their eyes on the streets of Jerusalem, the future of the sport in Israel lies an hour south, in the sands of the Negev Desert and the nearby engineering labs of Ben-Gurion University. Next year, the country’s first motor sports complex is slated to open just north of Beersheva.
“One thing is for sure: There’s an Israeli audience that’s interested,” said Dror Karavany, who manages the development of the Bnei Shimon track.
For the student team at Ben-Gurion, though, Jerusalem Formula was merely a milestone en route to the main event: a sleeker design and a strong finish at Formula SAE, a competition in which student teams worldwide race homemade cars through the streets of Varano de’ Melegari, in northern Italy. Last year, the Israeli team placed 11 in a field of 42.
The Ben-Gurion team began working toward this year’s race last summer, when the students split into pairs and each tandem chose a part of the car to design. Each pair then spent a couple of months studying its part before starting the design on a computer.