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'Geers tear up Motor City

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While little kids may dream of being the next Jacques Villeneuve, University of Calgary engineering students made their dream of building a Formula One-style racecar a reality. The team designed and built the car to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers' annual Formula sae competition in Detroit May 19­23.

Two years of intense planning and fundraising were needed to get the project off the ground, but the team met and exceeded initial project objectives, despite an 85th place finish in a field of 106.

"All we wanted to do was get a car done, get to the competition and hopefully make it through most of the events," said senior team member Steve Summers, adding the team did exceptionally well for their first year, especially since they didn't have $1 million budgets like other teams.

Over 100 teams attended the competition from schools in Canada, the us, Puerto Rico, and England. Cars have to initially pass a rigorous technical and safety inspection before moving onto the brake and sound test. These two tests are critical to determine whether a car continues in the competition.

"A lot of teams struggle with the inspection and we passed on the first try," said Summers. "We also passed the brake test on the first of three trials and we'd never even had the car on the road before."

Teams also perform a series of dynamic events, including acceleration testing, a skid pad test and an autocross event. The U of C car posted a 5.3 s time for the 100 yard acceleration event, and placed 35th in the autocross event. The team placed 39th in the skid pad test, in which drivers take the car through a figure-eight pattern to test its handling ability.

"I pulled negative 1.2 g's without even practicing," said Summers.

Each event earns the team points to qualify for the final endurance trial. The U of C was one of 64 cars to qualify, but failed to complete the course when a front wheel bolt sheared.

"Only about a third of the cars finish anyway," said junior team member Ramona Corbiell. "It was exceptional for us to even qualify."

Teams also must present their car and a cost analysis for production to the judges. The team lost critical points here, placing 72nd for presentation and 96th for cost analysis.

"We weren't conmen," said Summers. "We were too honest and you have to sell the car, but we just didn't spend enough time planning our presentation."

The University of Michigan Tech, who used a design similar to the U of C's, won Rookie of the Year.

"They had the side-mounted engine like we did, but their's looked like a bathtub," said Summers.

With this competition under their belts, team members taking over next year have high aspirations; Co-captain Barbara Thomas said design changes are already in the works.

"With the improvements we're planning, I think we have a great chance to place in the top 30 in Detroit next year," she said.

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