We talked to the U of T Concrete Toboggan Team’s co-captains and spirit lead after they came back from the annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR) in Kelowna, B.C. winning second place after a two-year break of in-person competitions. Team leaders share their last-minute scramble to fix the toboggan, insights about the competition, and share ideas about the future of the team.
Could you all introduce yourselves?
N – My name is Nathaniel Rzepka. I’m in Civil Engineering in [fourth year], and I’m doing a minor in Environmental Engineering.
L – I’m Lindsay Wells. I’m also a [fourth year] in Chemical Engineering and double minoring in Bioengineering and Business.
G – Hello, I’m Georgia Collins. I’m in Civil Engineering [fourth year] + PEY. My minor is in sustainable energy, and I am the current spirit captain on the team. However, I was the captain of the team two years ago.
How was the competition? The whole week, basically?
N – It was hectic. We were a bit behind build-wise in comparison to other teams. We completed a lot of work during the exhibition to get ready for race day.
L – When we shipped the t-bog out, we noticed there was something off we wanted to fix safety-wise. We bulked up and ended up flying with some suitcases. When we got there, one of the pieces was missing, but we repaired it. However, during the safety check, something else broke, so we had to figure it out and fix it a couple of hours before race day. So, we had a lot of last-minute building both on our technical exhibition day and throughout the race day.
G – The level of experience on the team last year was quite high. Given that the process of building a toboggan and participation in the GNCTR was new to many people on the team this year, we were really impressed that we could do so well in the competition.
N – In my memory, it was the first year without a real crash and no injuries. GNCTR made a massive drive to improve safety. I have been on the team for five years, so I’ve seen a lot of change over the years, especially with seeing the growth of the competition, let alone the growth of other teams. It is really exciting to see where it’s going to go in the future.
What have you won?
N – We won the fastest run, King of the Hill, the elimination bracket winner, and second overall.
L – How the overall scoring works: the race day performance makes up about 40per cent of the overall score, 30 per cent is design, 10 per cent is safety, and 10per cent is spirit.
G – Other teams scored better in the technical design; that’s why they got a first place over us. The theoretical design comes down to what we submit in our technical reports and presentations.
N – We still did well overall. Given that we were still able to maintain second place, so we scored well in all the categories; we just didn’t win first in those.
L – What we’re most excited about is the fact that our team was able to create such a good functioning product that did so well, despite some challenges on race day. We were able to fix a bunch of things very last minute, as we had some excellent problem solvers on our team who were really good at thinking on their feet and had hands on the build. For me personally, if one has a great design, but they can’t execute it, then it’s not a great sign. We are proud that we were able to build the best product versus just designing it.
N – I think our ability to adapt as a team and be innovative on the spot was the key to our success. We have 24 people on our team, and we are very grateful to each and every one of them and everyone who helped us along the way.
Our main goal was to perform on the race day – and we accomplished that.
Did you realize that you won the fastest t-bog straight away? Did you see it coming?
L – We had two runs. First, they do the measurements of speed and braking. The other, steering, our team in the toboggan had to go between the flags. Some team members and I had to push the t-bog off the hill. We saw some teams perform before us successfully, but after pushing our toboggan, everyone said, “oh, that’s fast .” We gave the fastest time down the hill, about 45 kilometres per hour. We had around 2 seconds speed break with the team that followed us in the table score.
What was the theme and the name of the toboggan this year? I guess it’s not very common to have a name for both of them.
L – Well, we have a tradition of naming the toboggan – just like a boat! Being an IKEA-themed t-bog, we went with broadcasting more of the Swedish culture and chose the more Nordic-sounding naming it Svetlana. We chose blue and yellow colours for the same reason, both for the t-bog and our uniform.
N – We had yellow T-shirts with blue stripes, blue shorts, a tool belt, and t-bog patches.
What is going to happen in the future of the team?
N – We built the bridge between the new team members, and those who participated in the competition in-person in 2020, and we managed to re-establish the learning culture. Our younger colleagues have a great experience under their belt now, and next year they can focus on improving some areas and applying the knowledge.
G – We are all [Lindsay, Nathan and Georgia] graduating along with a couple of other team members too. So that knowledge base is leaving, but we tried our best to pass on all that, not only on the technical side but the spirit side of the team too. It is important to keep the fun traditions alive on the team and keep a friendly dynamic within the team. That is what this year has been all about.
L – Our next step is choosing the next captain, and then it’s kind of their vision on how where they want to take the team. I think we’ve done a good job this year. It is unusual for a team to win two years in a row at the in-person competition, but we did it.
Are you guys done with the competition this year? Is it time to recruit people for next year?
N – For the general team members, we make the team selection around May, leads selection at the end of March – beginning of April. Between June to September, when most of the designing is done. September to December is the build time because we need a lot of building facilities.
G – What we are looking for in people is primarily willing to learn and contribute to the team. With lead positions, the experience might be highly beneficial, for instance, with SolidWorks or experience with machining, but there are no strict requirements on what is needed. So just being willing to learn in all areas is essential. For all the recruiting updates, students can follow us on our Instagram page and join our Discord.
By Galina Nikitina