Formula team goes west

Jul 28, 2006

Kettering's Formula SAE race team took their race car to California this year for competition.

There were long hours of driving, last minute testing and a lot of stops to fill the tank of the truck towing the competition car for the Kettering Formula SAE team, but the hard work paid off with a 16th place overall standing out of 71 competitors at the Formula SAE West competition in Fontana, Calif., June 17 to 21. They competed with other college teams including schools from across the U.S. and from places as far flung as Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico, France and Mexico.

Their ranking in the competition was the result of a lot of hard work. Engine issues such as parts not machined the way they were designed and weld contamination on a suspension component all were fixed before the competition, but it was a stretch to get it done in time.

"I am really proud of the team this year. We had nothing but issues from day one and they really stuck in there until the end. It was good to see our efforts pay off the way they did," said team leader, David Rising, a senior from Tacoma, Wash.

The Kettering team typically spends a year preparing their vehicle, trying to coordinate their effort across two students sections. Kettering students attend college year-round, alternating three-month academic terms with three-month professional cooperative education experiences. While half the students are on campus the other half are at their co-op work assignments. This creates additional challenges for the Kettering team because there are members in both sections.

"The co-op program is our biggest strength and weakness at the same time," said Rising. Technically there are 16 students on the team, but the total number of team members needs to be divided by two to understand their productivity, he added.

"On the other hand its gives us a chance to work in the field that we love and bring knowledge back form the work place to benefit the team," Rising said, "many guys are in this because they love motor racing, that's what they want to do when they graduate."

And, although Formula competition rules allow re-use of the previous year's frame on the condition there are significant design changes, Kettering's team chose to start from scratch this year, according to junior Reed Pelly, a Mechanical Engineering major from Pittsburg, Penn. And because of SAE rule changes they had to redesign and rebuild the frame.

In 2007 they may have the luxury of improving on their current design. The team plans to compete in the Formula SAE East in Detroit, which will allow them to re-use the car they competed with in California. "We have one calendar year to run the car a second time," said Pelly. This is a "definite consideration," because it allows the team time to completely design the vehicle before construction so that they can work out conflicts during the design stage, according to Rising.

"Our current restrictions require design, construction, testing and tuning in one year," Rising said, "this next year we have a chance to alter our program and get a head start on the design phase. This will take the pressure off so that we have to time to really analyze our designs and make them work well."

The Formula SAE? competition is for SAE student members to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars. The competition rules place restrictions on the car frame and engine so that the knowledge, creativity, and imagination of the students are challenged.

The cars are judged in a series of static and dynamic events including: technical inspection, cost, presentation, and engineering design, solo performance trials, and high performance track endurance. These events are scored to determine how well the car performs. In each event, the manufacturing firm has specified minimum acceptable performance levels that are reflected in the scoring equations.

After the competition the 15 team members who traveled to California, took some time to hang out at the beach and visit Hollywood Boulevard. Then it was on the road again towing the Formula trailer back to Kettering.

Pelly was one of the three students that drove around the clock to bring the vehicle back. The biggest challenge on the return trip was the towing truck's 7.1 miles-to-the-gallon gas consumption. "We had to stop for gas every two hours," said Pelly.

Written by Dawn Hibbard