Geer Power

By Johan Creaser

If you plan on being in Detroit this May, you might want to stay off the roads. Engineering students from all over the world will be on hand for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ annual Formula SAE competition. Yes, that means racecars.

Two years ago, two students from the University of Calgary’s Department of Mechanical Engineering hatched a plan that would see a U of C team attend the competition in which students design and build a Formula One-style car. As the largest undergraduate project ever undertaken at the university, the Formula SAE project will give students a chance to learn project design skills in a large-scale context.

"We get hands-on experience, technical advice from engineers working in the field and exposure to career opportunities in motor sports," said team Co-captain and project initiator Brian Taylor.

The team objectives are to learn project and time management, to improve practical, communication and teamwork skills, and to focus on innovative thinking.

"It will be great to see something we’ve designed on paper go burning its tires on the race track," said fourth-year team member Steve Summers.

The team consists of 20 members, including fourth-year, third-year and internship students from the department. Although only the fourth-year students receive class credit for the project, the volunteer contributions of the other team members are vital to the project’s success.

Third-year team member Ramona Corbiell explained that while the third-year students don’t often work directly on the car, they do most of the fundraising and help out in other ways.

"I’m helping with the radiator design and the other third-years have built a cart stand for the car," she said.

Because of the magnitude of the project, the team has to rely on sponsorship and donations to cover all the project costs from building the prototype to travel expenses. To date, the team has raised $37,000 of its $50,000 budget and is still looking for sponsors.

"If we fundraise enough money, we’ll be able to take more of the team along," said Summers, adding it would be a great experience for team members who will take over the project next year.

Intended as a long-term project, the third-year and internship students will continue the project, making large-scale changes to the design in order to be eligible to compete in next year’s competition.

The team’s faculty advisor, Professor Daryl Caswell is extremely supportive of the project and the team’s dedication. Most of the students carry full-course loads of five or six classes, and the fourth-year students put in 20­35 hours a week on the car.

"The resourcefulness of the students is something we never capitalize on," said Caswell. "We haven’t begun to see the magnitude of what they can achieve."

The Formula SAE criteria for judging a car fall into two categories. Half of the marks are for the inspection, design, presentation and an analysis of what it would cost to produce 1,000 cars based on the prototype. The other half are for the actual performance of the car in the race and other areas, like fuel economy and endurance. Pitted against American teams, some with $2 million budgets and years of experience, the U of C team must rely on its innovation to do well in the competition.

"Ideally, we’d like to finish in the top 10 per cent," said fourth-year team member John Peters. "Hopefully, we’ll get Rookie of the Year."

Design innovations include the side-mounted engine, which puts the centre of gravity in the middle of the car to allow for better handling and cornering. This differs from a normal Formula One car where the engine sits behind the driver for better aerodynamics. Because the car is built specifically for the SAE course, the team took track conditions into consideration before making their design decisions.

"We looked at the course and decided that handling needs outweighed aerodynamics," said Peters, adding the car would not be good on a real Formula One track.

Students in the Industrial Design program for the Faculty of Environmental Design are building the body of the car out of general interest, with a possibility of incorporating it into their own program later. Since the university cannot provide much financial support, they decided to purchase a trailer for the team to use for transporting the car to Detroit. This trailer will also be available for other campus groups to use in the future.

Each team member will be allowed to try out for one of the four driving positions, although one space has been reserved for Taylor. The car will be completed by the end of February and the team plans to show it off in MacEwan Student Centre.

"It’s a labour of love," said Peters.

Check out their website.


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