While students are getting into the swing of the spring semester, members of the Formula U Racing team, the University of Utah’s section of Formula SAE, are in the middle of a year-long project. They are working to build an electric car with a full carbon fiber monocoque, the structural skin of the body, for the June 17-20 Competition in Fontana, California at the Auto Club speedway.
Formula SAE, a student design and racing competition, is a yearly nationwide engineering event. Awards are given out for design, business and how cheaply a successful car can be made.
“It’s not just about how fast the car is, its about the engineering decisions we make along the way and why we built it a certain way given the resources we had,” said Noel LeBaron, President of the Formula U Racing team and a senior in mechanical engineering.
While this club has been at the U for over 15 years, LeBaron said that four years ago students decided to take a new approach. Instead of filling the team with only seniors — who would graduate and leave the new team to figure out past problems alone — they decided to build up the program with more students. They also made technical changes, like switching from a combustion car to an electric car and from a steel tube frame to a full carbon fiber monocoque.
LeBaron said they bit off more than they could chew at first because, according to her, building an electric car is 10 times harder than a combustion car.
“We’ve been slowly picking away at that to get to a running car,” she said.
The team now has around 16 members and though the competition is STEM-focused, LeBaron said they need members from all colleges, including humanities and business, because of the nature of the competition.
“This team is run a lot like a startup,” LeBaron said.
The team must build their car completely from scratch, fundraise and work for the materials, ask for donations and plan each step of the process.
“We’re not just given a project and … the resources, ” she said, “We decide what our end goal is and we figure out how we are going to make it happen.”
Fall semester was spent designing and planning. Now, they are in the manufacturing process — building the frame, monocoque, batteries, circuits, and all the other small details that go into making a car. Currently, they are specifically working on the carbon fiber chassis, the frame of the vehicle.
Additionally, they have started to collaborate with Salt Lake Community College, encouraging students there to join, and also working with students at the West Pointe Campus, which focuses on continuing education and workforce training, to manufacture the car.
Even with a $2,350 registration fee, the team is not guaranteed to compete, as they have to pass a series of tests and make sure their car follows all regulations. LeBaron said around two-thirds of teams do not even get the chance to race.
Team co-captain and head of aerodynamics, Zachary Ingrey, a fourth-year student in materials sciences and engineering, said their goal for this year is to be able to compete in all static and dynamic events. Last year, their electronics did not pass all the tests and they could only compete in static events. Read more….