What could be important enough to keep a group of Western students on campus until 6 a.m. during spring break, working tirelessly for no pay?
The Vehicle Research Institute's Formula SAE team invites you to find out, when they show off their new racecar, Viking 43, at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the Performing Arts Center Mainstage.
The SAE—Society of Automotive Engineers—sponsors a series of events, one of which is called Formula SAE, team captain John Furtado said. In Formula SAE, college students representing universities from around the world design an open-wheeled race car. There are three Formula SAE events in the United States and five internationally.
On June 25, the team will take their car to California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. They will compete with 90 teams from eight different countries, including Sweden, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, Venezuela and United Arab Emirates.
Because the car only weighs between 400 and 420 pounds, the competition puts a cap on speed and horsepower to keep the car safe. Western's car can go approximately 120 mph, but Furtado said the driver will probably only take the car to 80 mph in the competition. It has about 87 horsepower, and can go from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds.
“That's super-car territory,” Furtado said.
The car is made of pre-impregnated carbon fiber, which is a light weight material used to build Boeing's 787. Viking 43 is the first car built at Western to use this material, Furtado said.
Viking 43 is fast, but the competition is more than a race, Furtado said. Formula SAE is a competition with many events.
The “dynamic” events test the car's performance. First, acceleration is tested by running the car around a figure eight track as quickly as possible. Then, the car is tested for speed and maneuverability in the autocross, which is a single lap through a cone course. After that comes a fuel efficiency test.
“You can dump fuel into the engine and make a lot of power, but you can also be smart about how you inject the fuel,” Furtado said.
Viking 43 gets about 10 miles per gallon, while many Formula One cars often get only one mile per gallon, Furtado said.
Finally, there is endurance, which is a 13 mile drive through a cone course with other cars. This is where a lot of teams lose because their cars simply can't finish the test, faculty adviser Mark Dudzinski said.
“You lose a lot if you don't complete the endurance event,” Dudzinski said. “It's pretty much impossible to come out on top if you don't complete it.”
A lot of teams have car trouble at the competition because they get the car done just before the competition and can't spend much time test driving, Dudzinski said. By spending a lot of time on the design phase, Western's team was able to get the car built early, Furtado said. This leaves them with time to test drive Viking 43.
“After a day of driving, we can go back and look at all that data and figure out how we can optimize the car,” Furtado said.
The static events are presentations given to a panel of judges. In the design presentation, the team must talk about the decisions they made when designing the car, Furtado said.
“The car is built pretty much from the ground up,” Furtado said. “We build just about everything except the engine.”
The team must also give a cost presentation, showing where they bought the material for making the car and how they designed each part.
“We had a couple people working tirelessly for weeks and weeks on that,” Furtado said.
By the rules of the competition, the car can not cost more than $25,000 to make. Western's Formula SAE car cost about $16,000 to make, much of which has come out of students' pockets, Furtado said. The team has gotten by without any monetary support from the university. Sponsorships from local companies and some money from the Associated Students have made the car possible, Furtado said.
Some other universities come to the competition with budgets as high as $40,000, Dudzinski said. Some even hire out manufacturing to companies. However, not many schools have the tools and hands-on resources that the Vehicle Research Institute has.
“We have a really well-equipped shop,” Furtado said. “We have machines there that most universities don't have access to.”
The third static event is the sales competition, in which the team must try to pitch the car design to judges acting as manufacturers and investors.
“The cars are basically for weekend racers,” Furtado said.
The team has grown from about 10 students to about 30 students in the past five years, Furtado said. The team includes many students from outside the Vehicle Research Institute, including students studying operations management, computer science and education.
A large team can mean a lot more people to manage, but Furtado handles the job well, Dudzinski said.
“He's not necessarily down in the pit day-to-day working on the projects, but he spends a lot of time with the organizations and layout …all of the major macro-logistics that need to happen to make a successful team,” Dudzinski said.