By Ivanhoe/The AS Review
WWU Formula SAE (WWUFSAE) will hit speedways in Michigan and California this year—just as soon as they design and build the car they intend to race.
WWUFSAE, an AS club, gives students an opportunity to participate in the design and manufacture of a racing vehicle and race them against other cars designed by Formula SAE clubs from other colleges and universities.
The vehicle WWUFSAE will build this year, which they call Viking 48, will be taken to Michigan to compete at the Michigan International Speedway near Detroit and then in June to California to compete at the Formula SAE West competition in Fontana, Calif.
Until then, groups of students will put together and implement a manufacturing plan, detailing how they will design, budget, construct, test and market Viking 48. The construction phase will take place on campus at Western’s Vehicle Research Institute (VRI) facilities in the Engineering Technology building (ET).
The VRI is one of the team’s greatest assets, Project Lead Matt Hill said.
“We receive little [monetary] sponsorship from the school, but we have a full machine shop here,” he said.
“It’s a very open facility that no other team has,” WWUFSAE Technical Director Trevor Full said.
Nevertheless, the vehicle will still set the club back around $50,000, Hill said, which means the club has to work to gain sponsorship from private donors. These include the British Petroleum Cherry Point Refinery in Blaine, Wash., and the Porsche Club, a local Porsche owners’ club that has donated generously to WWUFSAE for three years running, he said.
“[The Porsche Club] flat-out turned down UW’s team this year [out of] loyalty to what we’re doing here,” Hill said.
WWUFSAE has been designing and building cars since 1991, when they first began work on Viking 22, but the turnaround for new cars was typically three to four years, Hill said. Since the 2007-08 academic year, however, they have been working to complete a car a year, he said.
“When you’re doing a project over three years, there aren’t many opportunities to get into it,” Hill said. “Knowledge transfer is one of the hardest things. This is the first time we didn’t have a lot of turnover [from the previous year].”
“A lot of people think you have to be an engineering student in your senior year [to join WWUFSAE],” he said, but added that there is a great need for students skilled in such fields as graphic design, business and marketing, to name a few. Although most of the club members are male, the club has and welcomes women on their team, he said.
The design of Viking 48 will be similar to last year’s car, Viking 46, Hill said.
Last year, Viking 46 “performed fantastically,” he said. “It was hands down the fastest car we’ve ever produced.” Hill added that it could accelerate from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat.
There is, however, room for improvement, he said.
“[We’ve had] big problems with brake system,” he said. “The rotors keep breaking.”
Viking 48 will also emphasize sustainability and emissions control, he said. WWUFSAE hopes to use an algae-based ethanol biofuel, commonly called E85.
“E85 uses more fuel, but [in competition] they apply a ratio to your number,” he said, which allows vehicles using different fuels to be fairly judged against one another for fuel efficiency.
Full noted that WWUFSAE will also put a special emphasis on good planning this year.
“Documentation, organization and communication are the three biggest areas of concern,” Full said.
“[Last year] we learned a lot about management and what a mismanaged project looks like,” Hill said. “Building a team is more important than building a car this year,” Hill said.
Nevertheless, they hope to produce an outstanding car, he said.
“We have an unspoken rule that the quality of workmanship has to be top-notch, between how cars look as well as really hard recruiting work by our team leaders,” he said. “We always look to find industry partners as fast as we can,” to benefit from their knowledge and build important industry contacts for its members.
“It’s a student-driven relationship,” Full said of their industry contacts. “They want us to learn. They don’t just answer questions, they ask us the hard questions.”
“The best way to learn is just to be thrown into it,” he said. “You thrive under pressure.”
Once Viking 48 is race-ready, WWSFSAE will have to compete in eight categories, Hill said. Before they hit the pavement, the project will be rated for the overall quality of its design, cost analysis and marketing presentation, which they will pitch to a panel of mock investors made up of important players in the auto industry. Then, Viking 48 will compete in a series of races that will test its acceleration, steering, endurance, fuel economy and overall performance.
“Most rules revolve around safety,” Hill said, noting that before the cars can race they must pass a rigorous safety inspection.
Only four members of WWSFSAE will have the opportunity to race Viking 48 in Michigan and California next spring, but that doesn’t mean others won’t have their time behind the wheel by year’s end, Hill said.
“If you show yourself to be a committed member, you get a chance to drive the car,” he said.
Last year, both Hill and Full had the opportunity to drive in competition.
“Visceral is the only word I would say to describe driving one of these cars,” Hill said.
“It’s about as connected as you can be,” Full added.