Formula teams see improvements, challenges in competition
Last month, Illini Motorsports and Illini Formula Electric (IFE), the university’s Formula SAE teams, traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to compete in the Formula SAE competition there. While this was IFE’s first and only competition of the season, Illini Motorsports traveled to Michigan previously to compete.
The Formula SAE competition challenges students to design, manufacture, and compete with a prototype single-seat, formula style racecar. The competition aims to give students a chance to get some hands on experience with product design and project management, while allowing them to apply concepts from the classroom to their work.
Over the course of the four-day competition, the cars are assessed in a series of static and dynamic events, which are used to gauge how well the car performs and the team’s engineering effort. The competition also includes a technical inspection, tilt and noise check, and brake check. Electric cars must also pass a rain test.
Static events include design, cost, and presentation. Design allows students to explain design choices to judges in order to assess the engineering concepts used in the design of the vehicle. Cost requires students to calculate the cost of manufacturing 1,000 cars per year and submit a report for judging. Presentation forces students to create a business case aimed at the amateur racecar enthusiast and prove that it can be marketable and profitable.
Dynamic events include acceleration, autocross, skid-pad, and endurance. Acceleration evaluates the accelerating capabilities of the car; autocross evaluates the maneuverability and handling of the car; and skid-pad evaluates the car’s cornering abilities. Endurance is a 22 km course made to demonstrate the durability and overall performance of the car.
“A serious, multi-year project came to fruition as the team spent an intense season designing and building this year's vehicle. Despite the many complications from this change, the team saw great results. We plan to build upon the great progress made this past year and intend to climb in both the competition finishes and world ranking in the upcoming season,” said MechSE undergraduate Alan Papalia, next year’s team captain and chassis lead.
In their first competition this season, Formula SAE Michigan, the team placed 50th of the 114 teams present. In the static events, the team came in 10th in design, 3rd in presentation, and 55th in cost. In the dynamic events, the team achieved 44th in acceleration, 81st in skid-pad, 80th in autocross, and 45th in endurance.
At Nebraska, the team placed 34th of the 67 teams who competed. In the static events, the team placed 11th in design, 2nd in presentation, and 9th in cost. In the dynamic events, they came in 25th in acceleration, 35th in skid-pad, 43rd in autocross, and did not finish the endurance test.
Illini Formula Electric
Illini Formula Electric is the university’s electric vehicle formula team. The team aimed to improve the quality of individual components and systems while reducing weight with this year’s design.
Matt Metzler, the team’s mechanical captain, talked about the team’s accomplishments and challenges.
“At competition we weighed in 45 pounds lighter than last year, and made it through the electrical and mechanical inspection faster than ever before. However, we had some commercial component failures that delayed us getting through the rain and brake tests. Developing a reliable electrical system is the biggest challenge in the electrical competition, even for the top teams, and this plagued us again this year despite improved designs and more testing. Overall though, the car this year featured our first ever aero package, and we placed 5th in design, which was a huge improvement over last year,” he said.
At Nebraska, Illini Formula Electric placed 13th of the 21 teams present. In static events, the team placed 5th in design, 17th in presentation, and 14th in cost. Unfortunately, the team was unable to attend acceleration and skid-pad due to their commercial component failures and did not attend endurance due to a failed circuit board. Despite this, they still placed 7th in autocross.