by Derrick Bean
Engineering Public Affairs Intern
A dozen Wayne State students competed at Formula SAE Michigan May 13-17 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, receiving their best score in the five years Wayne State engineering students have entered the design and racing contest.
The WSU Formula SAE team, advised by Michele Grimm, associate dean for academic affairs, successfully completed all dynamic and static events, including the 22 kilometer endurance run that rigorously challenges the vehicle’s durability, speed and fuel economy. Only 37 teams completed this event out of a total of 119 participating teams who came from around the world.
Founded in 1978, the SAE Collegiate Design Series, which is organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International, challenges college students to design, build and race a small Formula-style race car. Similar competitions take place in Virginia and California, as well as internationally.
The team has been working on the Wayne State “mini” Formula racecar for a year. While Wayne State teams have competed in the competition the past five years, Formula SAE rules require teams to build a new car each year.
At the competition, the cars are judged in static and dynamic events. Static events focus on design, cost and manufacturing and the potential marketing of the vehicle, while dynamic events focus on acceleration, skid pad performance (cornering), autocross (handling and speed) and endurance/fuel economy.
Counting the points from all events, Wayne State placed 67 out of the 119 universities who entered.
“The team came together in true spirit and camaraderie, attaining the best performance yet by our Formula SAE teams. It represents a lot of hard work and time spent. It’s an inspiration for the college, and a benchmark for next year’s team,” said Grimm.
The team‘s success was due in part to the new braking system they experimented with this year, said Team Captain Philip Hughes. The team also replaced the fuel map, muffler, intake, and cooling system.
While this year’s competition was a personal best, Hughes said the team has potential for doing even better if more students return each year to compete. “In addition to looking for new recruits, we need to have returning members so they all know how things work year in and year out.” For next year, 11 of the 13 current members will be returning.
The team definitely faced its share of challenges. Compared to other prestigious competing schools with big budgets, the Wayne State team’s monetary support was light. The cost for designing, parts and machining are not cheap. The team organized a marketing effort led by Philip Lehman, a business student, and successfully raised both cash and in-kind contributions from sponsors.
The team actually turned this apparent disadvantage into an opportunity. Having a smaller budget than other universities made Wayne State students work even harder, Hughes said.
Finding students who can dedicate the time to the competition is another challenge. Only students with the strongest commitment and dedication to the effort remained as the core members, as many others with interest in the project realized the amount of personal time it requires.
Grimm emphasized the valuable experience obtained as a member both in terms of personal growth and for one’s career path. “Formula SAE opens doors for both internship and long-term opportunities in industry. Engineering companies recognize the importance of applied engineering experience to students – especially with real world constraints such as time and money. Even in the currently stressed economy, Chrysler, GM, and Ford continue to support the FSAE program in general and our team in particular. This support stems from the value that these companies place on these sorts of national engineering design competitions.”
Previous accomplishments for the WSU Formula SAE team include the Henkel Technologies Award for best use of structural foam in 2005 and SAE International’s Ralph H. Isbrandt Automotive Safety Engineering Award in 2008.
Members of the 2009 Formula SAE team are Phil Hughes, team captain; Gil Poisson; Lucas Bultema; Muataz Mikha; Rolando Moya; Sanket Sirpotdar; Rohit Tanksale; Robert Niemczyk; Lex Dodson; Philip Lehmann; Andrew Vaitkevicius; Alex Davidson; Alex Visconti; Larry Herrick, honorary member; and Dmitry Frankstein, consultant.
Their 2009 sponsors are Ford Research and Advanced Engineering; Chrysler LLC; General Motors Corporation; The Wayne State University College of Engineering; Meiden America, Inc.; JonaTek Products; RJS Racing Equipment, Inc.; Detroit Tube Products; SKF National Instruments; Metro Technologies, Ltd.; BASF; SKF Group; The Chemical Company; Michigan CAT; The Wayne State University College of Engineering Alumni Association; The Wayne State University Alumni Association; Performance Electronics, Ltd.; PCB Piezotronics; Thomas & Betts; Lincoln Electric; Aurora Bearing Company; Wayne State University Biomedical Engineering; NGK Spark Plugs; Orlandi Gear Company; and Deutsch Connectors.