WashU Racing team places well at Formula SAE event

After a year of hard work, the WashU Racing team placed in the top third of 115 teams at the Formula SAE 2015 Collegiate Design Series last month in Michigan.

The WU Racing team prepares for one of its driving tests at the 2015 Formula SAE Collegiate Design Series in Michigan.

Overall, the team placed 39th based on the results of seven individual competitions, including four events that involve driving the car, as well as three events that focus on design, engineering, marketing and business. About 19 students attended the competition, held May 13-16 at the Michigan International Speedway and sponsored by SAE International.

The competition is based on a fictitious manufacturing company charging each team to design and build a Formula-style race car.

The competition evaluates all aspects of the prototype car, including on-track performance, marketability, manufacturability, engineering design and cost efficiency. Its judges are professionals from the motorsports and vehicle manufacturing industries.

Nick Strahan, incoming president of the team and a rising senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in jazz studies, said the team performed best in the acceleration challenge, in which judges record the time it takes the vehicle to travel 75 meters from a standing start. Other events included one that tests the car's ability to corner, a time trial and a 22-kilometer endurance run. After the endurance run, judges also record the car's fuel efficiency.

While there were few problems the team had to address, Strahan said the team did as well as expected.

"Everyone on the team did a fantastic job," he said. "Our goal for next year is to perform even better."

While the design and performance of the car are big factors in the competition, so is time management, Strahan said. In addition, the competition teaches students to be ready for anything.

Because of a recently revised SAE rule regarding engine noise, the team initially failed the noise test by just two decibels. Team members worked quickly to solve the issue, first trying a steel silencer to break up the plain wave. When that failed, they tried to add baffles to reflect the sound into the muffler packing. Finally, they added packing to the muffler, which allowed them to pass the noise test.

"That's what's so great about this competition: You have to be able to think on your feet and come up with quick solutions," Strahan said.
"Of course it's all about design and preparation as well, but when it comes down to crunch time at competition, you have a day to do this crazy fix on your car and come up with as many ways to get it done correctly."

Kenneth Jerina, DSc, the Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Professor of Engineering and associate department chair for mechanical engineering and the team's faculty adviser, said it takes a lot of knowledge and skills to build a high-performance vehicle in one year.

"The team has done a fantastic job of bringing together students from different disciplines and transitioning leadership roles and skills from the graduating seniors to the freshmen, sophomores and juniors," Jerina said. "Pat Harkins (lab technician in mechanical engineering) provides his wealth of experience working with cars as well as space in the machine shop and is always important in the team's success."

The team is looking for new members after losing several key members who graduated in May, including the team's outgoing president, Jimmy Stillson, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in energy engineering. While much of the manufacturing work is done in the spring semester, most of the design work takes place in the fall semester, so there is work to do year-round, he said.

"We want to expand the number of students on the team so we can spread out the work," Strahan said. "Our strategy is to try to get a lot of work done early, with more people, it will be easier."

If interested in joining or sponsoring WashU Racing, visit the team's website or contact Strahan at nstrahan@wustl.edu.