Formula SAE:  What a Few Car College Gear Heads Can Do In Their Free Time

by David Zipf


A good percentage of MotoIQ's staff and readership is comprised of Mechanical Engineers.  That title isn't given to just anyone, you have to work through a (minimum) of four years of hard college work full of long lectures, late nights, and a hermit-like social life.  So what does a car geek do when he's tired of working the books and nerdulator?  He (or she) finds the campus Formula SAE team and wrenches of course!

UD's 2010 SAE Car

Last year's car from the University of Delaware.  This is a backup car and is used for driver training.  A number of parts were stripped from this car to get the 2011 car running.

So what is Formula SAE?  SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers.  Every year they host a number of design challenges for colleges around the world.  Formula SAE is a competition where schools design and build formula style race cars for a pretend new spec autocross series.  The engines are limited to 600cc (since the students do the driving) but the rules are fairly open.  Every team comes up with unique designs and they certainly push the rules every year.  The technology on some team's cars is cutting edge; traction control, launch control, extensive use of composites, and wind tunnel tested aerodynamics are par for winning at competition.  Every year each team must build a new chassis, forcing innovation.  This keeps teams busy all year long, designing, fabricating, testing and tuning.  In May and June, competitions are held in Detroit Michigan and Auto Club Speedway in California.  Judging is performed by engineers from Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and other major car companies.  Because the process of designing, testing, and validation is identical to real world projects, Formula SAE participation is a big boost to any Engineer's resume.

UD's 2008 SAE car
University of Delaware's 2008 Formula SAE car.  The wheels from this car are still in use on the current 2011 machine.

Because every school is so different, every car has a different story.  Some teams are very large, and some are very small.  Some teams have hundreds of members spending lots of time and school money doing what they love.  Other teams only have a few dozen members.  A few very small teams have less than ten members total!  But the hard work is appreciated by all who compete and no matter who finishes first, getting a car built and ready for competition is an accomplishment in itself.  Amazingly, we can find time to work on this car, while studying for notoriously hard Engineering classes, working real jobs, and of course indulging in all the other aspects of college life.  Having access to the resources of an entire Engineering department gives the team a treasure trove of useful items including access to a full machine shop, CAD software, quality testing equipment, and most importantly a healthy budget from the school.  The faculty is also an important resource, often helping the team when it encounters a difficult problem.

The University of Delaware has been a part of FSAE since 1995 and currently has about two dozen dedicated members.  This year the team started with a clean sheet design.  Most teams only update their design every year, shedding weight and adding power, or improving reliability: simple evolution, not revolution.  This cuts down fabrication time since things like dampers, controls arms, uprights, etc. can be reused from year to year.  UD's design was a good four years old and the benefits of designing a completely new frame heavily outweighed the time lost making new parts.  This was also the first year the school gave credit to the senior members (in fact for many of the team, this car was their Senior project, required to get a degree in Engineering) which brought in many new members with new ideas.

UD's 2011 SAE Car

Here is UD's 2011 car in its first iteration.  The car did run, though most of the ancillary systems were far from complete.  The entire team put in a Herculean effort to get the car to this state, some members spending all night in the shop getting things working.

Page 1 of 4 Next Page
Bookmark and Share
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 1:02 AM
Thank God, someone wrote an article about FSAE!!!

MotoIQ should even cover a competition sometime...(2 Sept it's the Italian one;) )
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 3:10 AM
This is Dave (the author). Parts 3 and 4 will cover UD's time at California this year. I was hoping to get coverage of the whole event, but the car kept us very busy, so I ran out of time for much else (I did scope out some of the other cars and you'll see some of them later, but not in as much detail as this one).

And thanks to Colin for helping me make this happen. I love the first page by the way!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 4:41 AM
I've seen SAE mentioned in the past in various magazines but it's usually just as coverage of the final event and a bit of a blurb about all the work that goes into designing a race ready car.

I'm glad you're letting us see things from the other side.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 4:48 AM
More engine info please? lol
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:12 AM
not to say that UD isn't doing good work on their formula SAE i love all the SAE teams and cars but if your want to get a better cover on a SAE team check out University of Texas at Arlington. personally i never got fully involved (because of course load) but they keep all of their cars running and as you know they build a new one every year so they have at least 6 or 7 cars in running condition and they race about 2 to 3 of them. the bodies are full carbon fiber with front and rear carbon fiber wings, chromolly steel tubing frame, carbon fiber wheels (yes even the wheels) and everything is made in house. the brakes are square... which they went into but it went over my head, the student that designed them got picked up by honda after graduation. they run all different motors but the one i remember was the boosted honda cbr-rr motor that revs to 20000 and is pushing like 20 pounds (yes they loose alot of motors) anyway enough of me blabbing heres a link for some info. http://fsae.uta.edu/
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:17 AM
I loved FSAE. I wouldn't trade those 4 years of stupid long hours for anything. I definitely recommend it to any gear head that is studying engineering and doesn't expect to have a girlfriend (or at least a happy one).
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:21 AM
oh and for go pro views of UTAs cars here is a link the video page. http://fsae.uta.edu/videos/2005-SCCA-Solo-Nationals-North.html
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 8:20 AM
Boosted 20K rpm? How does the valvetrain take that kind of abuse? I never even bothered to think that FSAE allowed boost either....that's kinda ridiculous IMO since boost could lead to power in the 300-500hp range and that seems a little excessive for these cars.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 9:10 AM
its a 250 cc motor boosted through a i believe a 20mm (check FSAE rules) choke pipe, so this thing maybe makes closer to 90 hp (from what i remember asking last time i was at a meeting.) the motor is the honda cbr motor and its stock redline is 20k rpm its a gear driven DOHC design you would have to look that up yourself but they did it.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 9:17 AM
oh and thats not a U.S. market CBR thats the japanese market motor. infact the UTA FSAE team has traveled to Japan to compete and i believe they placed in the top 3, while they were there they said they picked up 10 more motors because of how hard they were to source.
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:56 AM
for my senior project, I actually purchased 3 of the mc22 engines. I had no issues running 19 psi (peak via garret GT12) on e85 and 20k rpm. I did however have to use the cam trigger signal for the crank trigger as I couldn't get an ecu to handle the RPM. I also used CBR 600 clutch parts but still had clutch slip issues.
Gasoline is a 20mm restrictor and E85 is a 19mm.
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:57 AM
oh and the stock redline is 18,500 if I recall.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 12:31 PM
I personally don't care for all the aero on the UTA cars; maybe it's because I went to UT-Austin :P Seriously though, while it looks cool, I don't think it helps their score for an overall win. The schools typically at the top are MIT and Cornell. Texas A&M had a good run. Looks like UT-Austin is finally back to a good program.

Um, back to the point I was going to make... I spent some type helping out with UT-Austin and U. of Florida cars while I was in school. It takes a shit ton of time by a good team to make a good car. When it comes to Formula SAE where time and resources are limited, I feel it's best to optimze a relatively simple system as opposed to trying to develop something complex.

At FSAE West this year, the team from Quebec took the overall win with a relatively simple car. No crazy aero, etc. But they obviously did a really great job of optimizing what they had; they took 1st in Engineering Design Judging, Acceleration, Endurance, overall score in Dynmanics, and the overall win.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 3:08 PM
Just to reiterate: UD is a tiny team with about 24 members and a budget that would shame a LeMons team.

N/A SAE cars have a 19mm restrictor, boosted cars get even smaller.
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 3:32 PM
Aspiration has nothing to do with it. It is strictly fuel option limited. The reason being is that it caps power but in doing so with the displacement cap of 610cc that it then comes down to design reasoning or how choke flow effects your engine, powerband and gearing options....to be judged by experts in the field.

Speaking of which, any FSAE people reading this that don't know; the judges for design are only there to judge if your reasoning for design and thus supporting to support that design are thorugh. With that said, the Brit judges (especially) will hate on the mt bike shocks unless you have dyno proof of valving ;)
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 3:34 PM
I agree with mech5107 a moto IQ FSAE car would be pretty interesting
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 3:44 PM
I read that comment a little too fast... but on the east coast both current and past FSAE cars have competed at SCCA autocross events
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 4:20 PM
I'm starting to dislike FSAE. Seems like they make it too hard on the engine department. I mean 600cc bike engines make 100-120hp easily from the factory. The rules have you guys boosting the hell out of 250cc bike engines to make 90 through intake restrictors? Couldn't they have limited you to turbocharged 50-125cc motors or something dumb like that and left the restrictors out? I just don't like the idea of engineering power while purposely making a choke point externally.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:56 PM
for the actual FSAE competitions no the aero probably doesnt help as they don't get much past 60 mph most of the time. however when they are running on the road course at Texas motor speedway yeah id say it helps at 80+ mph, now i think the real issue with FSAE is none of the engineering points yeah any good team can design a great car and yea the huge budgets help (btw UTA has a very small budget compared to UT and A&M) but the real issue with these is that no college student is driving these cars anywhere close to their limits, needless to say its very expensive to get experience driving these cars because the tires and motors wear fast like any race car, leaving the low budget teams even at less of an advantage. either way the drivers in this are the ones being left out of the equation.

In the end FSAE is for learning, nothing more nothing less its a great way to meet like minded people and to put what you can design to the test.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 8:10 PM
Good in-line 4s make around 90+hp...with the restrictor. (20mm for gasoline, 19mm for E85).
The restrictor is there only to chalenge the team. Good poweband is still possible.

Aero packages seems to work even in competition. Take GFR for example...Michigan11 were 3rd (i believe) in skidpad without aero, in California they won skidpad with aero.
In Germany, during endurance the best lap was ~48sec, when GFR entered, their first lap was 47...and they do drop to low 46 (if no 45).
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:18 PM
Sorry i mean sprint/autocross...
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Thursday, August 25, 2011 3:12 AM
@sixcylinders: the restrictors play a two part roll.
1.) it's a safety factor for speed/power. If you think we have it shitty for engines, look at what Baja SAE gets stuck with.
2.) It makes and engineering challenge. Anyone can slap a GT15 onto an MC22 and make 120+hp (best of luck with the clutch) but it takes engineering to run design a pacakge to make 94 hp through a 19mm restrictor (still couldn't prove/find where my 2hp were lost from paper). Then you also have to prove/explain your design reasoning; explaining pros and cons, backed up with calcs and testing. You actually have to research avenues and trade-offs of a 4, 2 or single cylinder, fuel choice and aspiration type (super, turbo, NA). Keep in mind it's and engineering competition ;)
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Thursday, August 25, 2011 3:17 AM
Or I a V8 as Western Washington University did

They never had a big budget but lots of material and machining resources. Always cool to see what they'd make.
Thursday, August 25, 2011 4:08 AM
I see aero helping in skidpad and auto-x, and hurting in endurance and acceleration. But my point on aero was, it takes a LOT of resources to do it. When I was at UT, it was basically an 8-person team. They were so pressed for time to just have a running car, they were painting the bodywork in the back of the Uhaul while driving up to Detriot! At that time Texas A&M had a senior design project class dedicated to FSAE which gave them a huge advantage (like 5x) in manpower and hours.

As for budget, U. of Florida had a handful of members on the team dedicated to finding sponsors. They had a well prepared sponsorship proposal and actively went out to get sponsors. Don't forget, to do engineering, you have to have money :)
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, August 25, 2011 9:34 AM
Great read Dave! I'm excited to see how you guys came together. Although, I'm not so secretly hoping you guys came together somewhere behind my Alma Mater! (I just Google cheated, let's just my hopes came true but UT-A beat us)

Hindsight's 20/20 but this would have been fun during my days at University. I still had a ton of fun despite a VERY busy schedule, but had I known my passion for road cars back then. Well, that's why they call it hindsight!
Friday, August 26, 2011 10:58 AM
Do the rear upper links bind, or was that picture taken at full bump?
Friday, August 26, 2011 12:05 PM
There is a bit more bump left in it, but when these pics were taken, the ride height wasn't set. There isn't a lot of compression travel anyway because there's only about 2 inches of ground clearance before the middle of the frame bottoms out.
Monday, September 05, 2011 9:16 AM
Love to see FSAE coverage, I really wish the media would pick up on how exciting and challenging the FSAE journey is. Good work UD, you guys have a solid program. I doubt any of you were around in 2006-2007 (but I am taking my sweet time getting through school, don't tell my parents), but mix in some UD guys, OSU guys, and a handful of fireworks and you can guess where things went.

Check out our site to see where our 2012 vehicle is going. We began a complete vehicle redesign last year, and due to some serious program setbacks, had to go into a two year design/build schedule. Just another element to enhance the education of the team and its members.

Monday, September 12, 2011 8:03 PM
Glad to see a FSAE article.

I am a main guy on Pitt's FSAE team, we are getting ready to build jigs for the 2012 car. I love it...

Our new site is going to be engr.pitt.edu/fsae is anyone wants to know! (currently engr2.pitt.edu/fsae)
Wednesday, November 02, 2011 10:15 AM
Hello Dave,

I am from Purdue Baja and I am very interested in how you made the slider for the pedal box. If you could contact me via email instead of this web page, I would greatly appreciate it. My email is jkiste@purdue.edu. I would just like to ask you a few questions and bounce ideas about the slider.
Post Comment Login or register to post a comment.

MotoIQ Proudly Presents Our Partners:

© 2018 MotoIQ.com