It's too good to be true: a formula-style racing car that goes from 0–60 mph in 3.4 seconds (0.2 seconds faster than a Ferrari 360 Modena) and covers a quarter mile in less than 12 seconds (0.4 seconds faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo).
It's actually not too good to be true. Such a car is under construction on the University of Calgary campus by mechanical engineering students for the 21st annual Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers Advancing Mobility in Land, Air, Sea and Space) competition. Despite a disappointing 85th place finish in 2001, the University of Calgary will return to Pontiac, Michigan from May 15–19 for the Formula SAE 2002.
"The people who put in the most time get to go the competition," said senior team member Mike Drury. "It's not just senior members, if somebody works their ass off then they'll get to go."
Formula SAE draws university and college teams from Canada, Japan, Australia, the United States and Great Britain to Michigan every May for four days of competition and judging. Teams construct cars for a scenario outlined by Formula SAE judges that are then judged in a series of static and dynamic events including presentation, engineering design, solo performance trials, technical inspection, and high performance track endurance. The 2001 U of C team did not complete the technical part of the competition due to an engine failure during pre-competition testing, but they are optimistic that events will run more smoothly this time around. "We didn't finish all the technical events in 2001 because we had some problems and that's a big part of the judging marks, but you also have to have a good looking car," he explained, adding the team is shooting for the top-10. "This year we should do well in both parts, it looks like we'll have more time to test it out."
Despite their excellence in engineering, the U of C squad faces another obstacle to victory. While many American teams list a budget of $100,000 U.S., the U of C's budget this year is only $36,000, a fact that may have contributed to American dominance of the competition for the last 20 years.
"As far as engineering skills we're all on a level playing field," said Drury. "But because of the financial abilities of some teams to build whatever they want, maybe they should be in a different class."
Whatever the race result, Drury expressed the real reward lies in the process and the long-term benefits of essentially owning a shiny and very fast little vehicle.
"In the end it's all worth it because it's a lot of fun to build a race car," he said. "And the best part for me [in 2001] was coming back here with the entire summer to go to Race City. It's really fun to drive a car that you've built."