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Team of female engineers enter Red Bull Soapbox Race to encourage women to join industry


A group of female engineering students are competing in the Red Bull Soapbox Race in order to encourage more women to join the industry.

Belle Singleton, Isra Shaikh, Keya Zara and Megan Thurgood are engineering students at Loughborough University who make up The 12 Percent, and will compete when the famous event takes to Alexandra Palace, London on June 22, 2024.

Keya, who will be driving the soapbox down the track, noted that the team aims to build on the efforts made by former female engineering students in 2022.

She explained: “It’s a legacy name. We’re all engineering students who do different degrees, we’re all part of Women in STEM at our university. The year before us, there were four girls from the team that also participated in the Red Bull Soapbox Race. They were quite successful and had a lot of fun, so we took the legacy name from them.

“The name stems from the percentage of women in engineering for their degree when they were running it. Now that we have our own team, we have different degrees instead of one, so the name represents the average amount of women in all of the courses.”

The 12 Percent’s entrance into the Red Bull Soapbox Derby is a tribute to Princess Peach’s vehicle in the Mario Kart series of video games.

Dubbed ‘Peaches, Peaches, Peaches’, the majority of the soapbox will be concealed by a steel-framed gown typically worn by the character and a trail of glitter which will be spread behind the vehicle using an electric fan.

Building the soapbox was partially made possible by Red Bull’s Young Constructor’s Grant, which funded a selection of entries built by university students.

Isra highlighted that building the soapbox gave all four members of the team the ability to develop their ability to work with a wider variety of materials.

She continued: “In terms of making the car, I haven’t done any woodwork since secondary school, and even then I had never really done a project – and it was the same with metalwork and welding.

“So, when we started the project, some of us were trained within those disciplines and then went off and did them. For me, it was my first time welding. I just thought, ‘why not give it a shot and see what happens?’, and did pretty well, I’m quite proud of myself for that.”

In designing the vehicle, Belle also stated that a lot of effort was put into making sure it was safe to use and passed Red Bull’s regulations.

She added: “When you see our soapbox, you’ll see this pretty pink ball gown. That was done on the last half-day that we were making it. Everything underneath is what we spent all of the development time on.

“It’s proper metal structures welded together with blocks of metal holding them up and off the chassis. We tried to make it so that if a ramp hits the front, it won’t buckle. If it crashes, we want it to look good, but we also want Keya to stay safe!”

Whilst creating the soapbox was a passion project for The 12 Percent, Megan hopes that the number of female teams competing in the event helps to boost the number of female engineers in the UK.

She explained: “We really want to push the agenda for women in this area because there’s no reason why women can’t be engineers, but, because of the low percentage of women in the industry now, we’re assumed to be less capable.

“I think walking into any room that is 88 percent male-dominated is always going to be intimidating, no matter who you are. This year, Red Bull has done a really good job at getting more entirely female teams to represent this side of it. It’s been a really welcoming environment.”



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