Inside Revolution: Inspiring the next generation with Greenpower

Thursday 04 May 2023

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Nash Vracas was just nine years old when she was bitten by the motorsport bug, watching her sister design, build and race an electric car as part of Greenpower. Vracas went on to forge a career in engineering, steered by the skills and mindset she learned from taking part in the scheme herself, and is now looking to develop new innovative ways to help it grow.

Greenpower involves teams of students aged 9 to 25 competing at events in the UK and across the globe, with an annual final often held at one of the UK’s top circuits. Recently, it has drawn marshalling support from Motorsport UK’s Orange Family and Vracas is now hoping strengthening connections with motorsport clubs can inspire the next generation.

“When I started going along to the events all those years ago and saw what my sister was doing, I absolutely fell in love with it,” recalls Vracas. “I really wanted to be part of it because the atmosphere is absolutely infectious, it’s so big and bold. It just felt really exciting and I wanted to be part of it.

“As soon as I went to secondary school, my sister took me to the technology teacher and said ‘she absolutely needs to do this, she will love it’ and that was pretty much the start of everything. It’s not one of those things where parents take children along and they just race a car. The students do everything.

“The children and young adults that take part in Greenpower design and build the car themselves. So when something goes wrong, it’s the kids that fix it. They work as a team and work out what’s causing the issues. It’s suddenly all about fixing the problem rather than winning the race.

“For me, that was just so much more exciting than just a car race. It was problem solving, working in a collaboration, we really were a team with a common goal. When one of us had a down day, or something had gone wrong, we were always there to pick each other up, and those are life lessons I’ve taken all the way through.”

That initial spark led Vracas to eventually study a Master’s at Cranfield University in Aerospace Dynamics, with the aim of becoming an F1 aerodynamicist. During that time, she spent time as a research student working for Radical Sportscars and – for those who race or watch these popular cars on track, she was responsible for the rear wing on the SR3-RSX.

Her career eventually took her away from the sports side of automotive and into road car design, initially at Jaguar Land Rover and now, after a foray into the world of Olympic sports working for Team GB’s skeleton team, to the consultant engineering group RLE International as an Aerodynamics Specialist.

“Greenpower was the hook that got me involved and I was absolutely captured by the automotive world,” she explains. “I was really interested in why things worked the way that they did, rather than how do you build things to create a product. That is why I actually went on to study physics and specialised in fluid mechanics.

“I ended up getting a job in the automotive world, rather than in motorsport, and I absolutely flew with it. I had an amazing time and I feel I probably went up the ranks a lot quicker than most people because a lot of the skills that most people learn when they go into a job for the first time, I had actually already picked up at Greenpower.

“I was happy and comfortable explaining what I was doing, I had all the communication skills down. I also wasn’t bothered about the fact that things don’t happen overnight, because I’d spent seven years working on Greenpower. I knew that things took time and I could maintain the level of enthusiasm all the way through.

“When I moved to Team GB, I had never worked with an elite athlete before and I was very nervous going in, but actually within a very short amount of time I realised it was just like being at Greenpower. It was the same atmosphere, the same kind of people, very dedicated but also with the ability to relax and have a laugh.”

Throughout that time, Vracas had spent time volunteering for Greenpower, initially only for the final at Goodwood but then at an increasing number of events. She became part of the team and in 2016 she was asked to join as a director. She jumped at the chance, and has become increasingly committed to helping it prosper ever since.

Over the years, she has not only seen how the scheme has formed the people who go through but also how it has inspired them to continue their passion for the sport. Some have gone on to carve out professional motorsport careers in engineering or in other sectors, while others have joined motorsport clubs to compete at all levels.

“Greenpower set me up so well and gave me such a strong foundation, I really wanted to pass that on to the next generation,” she says. “I wanted them to get the same opportunity. I have now been volunteering for 13 years and I have seen more than a generation of children go through secondary school.

“I have worked alongside people and even had people work for me who have been part of Greenpower, and I see and recognise those traits that I had at that age in them. They have that confidence, they are comfortable in what they are doing, really dedicated, they work together as a team and they have grit and are not going to give up.

“About a year ago, our previous Chair stepped down, she had taken us all the way through Covid, and for her that was enough. I was asked if I would consider taking that position and, again, it just seemed like a needless question! I was more than happy to and I’ve been doing that role for a year now.”

Vracas is now in the position to help Greenpower grow, and there are probably few people with as much passion to do so than her. The scheme has three categories for different age ranges and, currently, mostly draws teams from schools, although there are a number of independents too. 

The race season involves around 35 events nationwide, all spread around to cover as much area as possible – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The aim is to ensure nobody travels too far to get to an event, so within about an hour and a half for the older categories and an hour for the junior event. 

Teams are given a set of regulations and there are now two ways to get involved – either as a ‘scratch build’ car, where any design goes as long as it is within the regulations, and a ‘kit’ car approach, where teams buy a kit containing all they need to get started and it is up to them to work out how to put it together. 

“We encourage teams that started with a kit car to then move on to a scratch build,” she explains. “We usually say it takes a season to get started, so if you start in September, you may be able to race by June, definitely into October, but then be prepared to have the following season as your whole season. 

“Most importantly, it is not a one hit wonder. We encourage teams to go away, learn from the season before and work through any problems – because that is exactly what happens in the engineering world. The amount of time you spend, well, that is very much up to the teams as how they do it.” 

The organisation has Centres of Excellence around the country, where teams that lack facilities can make a base and access what they need. There are also companies that are engaged, either on a national or local level, to lend equipment, workspace and skills. But Vracas believes engaging Motorsport UK Clubs could be another avenue to explore. 

“I would like to see it growing more,” she continues. “Before Covid, we did our first street race in Hull and we had others lined up, one in London and a few other councils had approached us too. That fell over because of Covid, but I’d like to see that sort of thing come back and for us to expand in a way that makes us more available to more people. 

“A lot of people say it’s the best kept secret, but I don’t want it to be a secret! It would be great to get Clubs involved and I would like to work towards that more. We have had clubs involved in the past, but it tends to be very regional. So far, it has tended to be when people approach us rather than us them. 

“We have an individual on our Board who is a Marshal and is involved with Motorsport UK, and he has been helping us in starting to do that, at the moment from a marshalling perspective. We do have people around that are heavily linked within the local motorsport world and linking up more is definitely something that I think would be fantastic to do.” 

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