Christian Horner took on the hill in 2013
© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool
Soapbox Race

Red Bull Racing’s ultimate soapbox-building guide

The F1 team’s Chief Engineering Officer Rob Marshall tells us how to win at building a machine for Red Bull Soapbox Race.
Written by James Roberts
5 min readPublished on
The globetrotting, gravity-propelled circus that is the Red Bull Soapbox Race lands in London on July 9 2017, with a bunch of sublime and ridiculous homemade, engineless crafts and fearless pilots set to wow the crowds.
But how do you make a soapbox racer fast while ensuring that it’s sturdy enough to withstand a battering over a series of gnarly obstacles? As the 2017 teams and their drivers put the finishing touches to their crafts, caught up with a guy who knows a thing or two about building fast sturdy things…
Rob Marshall has been an integral part of Red Bull Racing’s huge success in Formula One over the past decade or so. From a teenage passion for tinkering with old motorbikes to a high-flying career building aeroplanes and onto the role of Chief Engineering Officer at Red Bull Racing, it’s fair to say that engineering speed and reliability into machines is one of Rob’s strong points.
With than in mind, here are some top soapbox racing tips from a top engineer. Over to you Rob…

1. Use a solid base

Start with something that is already a reasonably proven and robust device. You see so many soapboxes with a bicycle or go-kart design as the basis, or with elements of those things, and those tend to have a good chance.
They need to be pretty robust, not carry too much weight and have slippery bearings
Rob Marshall
You need strong wheels and strong axles, because it isn’t a smooth ride – there are bumps and jumps; you often see soapboxes take off, and everything looks fast and under control, but when they land, the wheels are broken and splayed and then it’s game over. They need to be pretty robust, not carry too much weight and have slippery bearings.
Rob knows how to make a strong, fast racer

Rob knows how to make a strong, fast racer

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

2. Get the basics right

If something is built on a sensible chassis – something with a robust frame, four wheels and a means of steering it – you can stick anything on top of it. You can put a 10ft high Christmas cake on it or make it as aerodynamically efficient as you want. Anything that has two-by-four planks of wood and axles bolted on – one bump and it will fall apart.
You know the really elaborate designs aren’t going to make it to the bottom of the hill
Rob Marshall
Some of the really elaborate ones, you know they aren’t going to make it to the bottom of the hill when there is just too much going on. Don’t get me wrong, some look really impressive; some are built from scratch and you think they’ll be slow and fall apart, but somehow they work.
I remember one year seeing a VW camper van [the Hippy Split Camper Van from 2013] and it was just a beautiful thing. It ended up in a bit of a mess, but it looked amazing!
Rob loved the Hippy Split Camper Van from 2013

Rob loved the Hippy Split Camper Van from 2013

© Nathan Gallagher/Red Bull Content Pool

Follow the link below to watch teams, including the Hippy Split Camper Van squad, reviewing their Red Bull Soapbox Race runs…

3. How to build a fast soapbox

From the point of view of going quickly, you need to get your bodyweight as the driver as low as possible. The designs that tend to go the quickest are when the driver is sat as low as possible and between the wheels, rather than up high, as they are prone to topple over.
The ideal soapbox racer would look like an old school racing car
Rob Marshall
If you had to say what the ideal soapbox racer looks like, you’d take an old school racing car – one before aerodynamics came along, when they were basically a teardrop shape with four exposed wheels. That would probably be a bit quick, and if everybody did that, it would be a bit boring. But as a basis, that’s a good way forward.
An old school race car – the ideal soapbox racer?

An old school race car – the ideal soapbox racer?

© Nathan Gallagher/Red Bull Content Pool

4. Pay attention to aerodynamics

It sounds stupid, but aerodynamics do play a part. If you have a lot of flat surfaces and things sticking up in the air, it will slow you down. There’s no such thing as no drag, and if you want to be the quickest, you have to have the least amount of drag. If you build the thing so you are nice and low, then you are going to minimise drag.
Strong wheels and strong axles are the key
Rob Marshall

Check out the best crashes from Red Bull Soapbox Race London 2015 in the video below. If only they'd listened to Rob…

1 min

Red Bull Soapbox Race London 2015 best crashes

It wouldn't be Red Bull Soapbox Race without some hilariously embarrassing meetings of face/road.

5. My ultimate soapbox

I would get a kid’s go-kart – not even a motor-powered one, just a pedal-powered one will do – use the front axle and steering mechanism and attach some strong wheels. When people start getting planks of wood and chopping things up, those sorts of crafts tend to fall apart pretty quickly. You see a lot where you have some old pram wheels and the spokes aren’t capable of taking the load. Strong wheels and strong axles are the key.
Strong wheels and strong axles stop THIS happening

Strong wheels and strong axles stop THIS happening

© Ali Bharmal/Red Bull Content Pool

And my design? It would have to be a Spitfire. You could take the wings off or pull them up, so it looks like an aircraft carrier-based one. I judged the Red Bull Soapbox Race one year, and one team had a soapbox designed in the form of a Sopwith Camel. It was magnificent!
It wasn’t just the fact they had built a Sopwith Camel; they had a proper, old school, First World War tent and they were brewing tea; they had moustaches and flack jackets and all that, and for the whole show they were in character. They were absolutely amazing.
Tickets for this year's Red Bull Soapbox Race London are now all sold out – but if you're in the UK, you can watch all the action on the Dave TV channel at 5pm BST on Sunday 9 July (Sky channel 111, Virgin Media channel 127)

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