Normally there would only have been one winner in the 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: James Hinchcliffe, the first IndyCar driver to complete 110 laps of the 1.8 mile street circuit on Sunday. But thanks to the Science Center of Pinellas County and iRacing, this year’s racing produced scores of winners . . . and most of them aren’t even old enough to qualify a driver’s license.
That’s because the Science Center has teamed with iRacing and other motorsports simulation leaders including Intel, Playseat and Logitech to develop programs designed to inspire students from Grades 6 – 8 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Earlier this year, iRacing donated video monitors and software to the Science Center, and helped coordinate the involvement of the programs’ other technical partners.
“This is a textbook example of what happens when strong, committed partners get together to support innovative educational initiatives,” says iRacing president Tony Gardner, whose background includes more than a decade in the educational software industry with Houghton Mifflin, The Learning Company and Achievement Technologies. “Along with the Science Center’s other fine programs, the hardware and software donated by Intel, Logitech, Playseat and iRacing is sparking the imagination of future scientists and engineers in Pinellas County.”
The Science Center sponsored students’ attendance at “Career Day” earlier this month where the Center’s three new racing simulators gave the students a virtual taste of driving an IndyCar after they spoke with driver Tony Kanaan about the importance of their education. Also in attendance were Indy Lights driver Zach Veach, USF2000 driver Michael Epps and Perelli World Challenge driver Ernie Francis Jr. The simulators were also a featured attraction at the Center’s VIP Social, where iRacing star and USF2000 driver Wyatt Gooden made an appearance.
“The hardware and software donated by Intel, Logitech, Playseat and iRacing is sparking the imagination of future scientists and engineers in Pinellas County.” — Tony Gardner
“Educators have found that one of the most exciting and interactive ways to incorporate science, technology, engineering and math in this age group is by utilizing computer-based simulators as a learning tool,” says Lisa Pineda, Director of PR and Marketing, who has been involved with Pinellas County Schools for over 15 years. “With our new partnerships – the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg and iRacing.com – the curriculum is exploring the aerodynamics, engineering, mathematics and technologies behind real and virtual racing.
“We wanted to use iRacing as a way to inspire students and let them know that by learning STEM you can have a lot of fun and also get involved in simulations and computer software that will blow everyone away.”
A driving force behind the Science Center’s motorsports simulation program has been Bryan Blackford, the Center’s Sustainability Manager and, not incidentally, a sim-racer for over 10 years and one of just 50 iRacers to qualify for the 2013 NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship.
“I have a passion for science and technology. Making the connection between iRacing and STEM as a learning tool is really exciting,” says Blackford who, along with Pineda and Epps, is developing the motorsports curriculum. “The Science Center needs more interactive programs to help kids understand what science really is. There’s a misconception that science is something you can leave behind once you finish school. Bringing all these amazing things – including simulators – that are connected to science will help the students realize that real and virtual race cars are rolling science projects.”
“We wanted to use iRacing as a way to inspire students . . .” — Lisa Pineda
The Science Center’s partnership with the 2013 HGPSP and iRacing.com is just the start of a long-term program to develop exciting and interactive ways to engage some 40,000 Pinellas County students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by utilizing computer-based simulators as a learning tool.
“The activities with the motorsports simulators during the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg helped prepare us for our Summer Camp, where we hope to accommodate many more kids for a much longer period of time,” says Pineda. “Also, we have monthly events at the Science Center where many people will be able to come and see the science behind the simulators. We anticipate reaching about 4,000 kids annually.”
If the Science Center reaches that goal, it will insure there are at least 4,001 winners at the 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg.