Formula SAE #1 team in the world

The University of Illinois Formula SAE team has beat out 347 teams to be named the best in the world, an historic first for the university.

The FSAE world rankings are based on performance scores over the previous three years. With 828.8 points, the team decisively beat out – by more than 86 points – the second-ranked team, University of Florida. This follows a #3 world ranking in 2023 and a #1 North America ranking.

The 2021 through 2023 seasons saw the team participating in five competitions – three of those resulting in wins, including second-place third-place finishes. Due to pandemic precautions in place in 2021, the team also competed in and won the FSAE Knowledge Competition, an aspect meant to replace the typical static events of a normal competition season.

2023 and 2022 cars with trophies
The team's 2022 and 2023 vehicles pose with their trophies.

In Fall 2023, Formula SAE – also known as Illini Motorsports – merged with Illini Formula Electric to form the new Illini Electric Motorsports. Last year’s car, IM-23, was the last combustion vehicle developed by Illini Motorsports prior to the merger, finishing on top as the best in North America. Led by President Hadley So and Team Captain Kevin Xue, the new Illini Electric Motorsports team will compete for the first time in the Electric class of Formula SAE this June at the Michigan International Speedway. So and Xue played a major role in last year’s vehicle development and will lead the team through the challenging transition to EV. 

MechSE undergraduates Blaine Hesler and Jaden Thompson were team leaders on last year’s historic FSAE team.

“Everyone who was involved made sacrifices and worked hard to push the team and the cars to be the best that they could and I’m very proud to have worked with them and been a part of it all,” Hesler said. “[Success] definitely didn’t come overnight, and while our world ranking only came last year, I could probably name more than a dozen alumni before I was ever on the team who deserve some credit for the result and there are certainly many more. Without all the work they put into improving the team, it would be impossible to have the kind of success and consistency we’ve had over the past few years.”

“Many things have contributed to their success, but I think probably number one has been the dedication of the team's alumni.”

Mike Philpott, MechSE Associate Professor Emeritus and long-time advisor to the team

Formula SAE team with their winning car on the track

2023 car on the track

Long-time advisor to the team and MechSE Associate Professor Emeritus Mike Philpott agreed with Hesler. “Many things have contributed to their success, but I think probably number one has been the dedication of the team’s alumni,” said Philpott.  

Indeed, every Fall, team members from previous years come back to review the design work for the new car, often spending weekends on campus or taking time off work during the week. Many FSAE alumni also attend the multi-day competitions to support and advise the current students as well as to serve as design judges and technical scrutineers – significant demonstrations of sacrifice and dedication.

“Commitments such as these run the entire season, and I think this speaks to the level of appreciation our alumni have for the opportunities that FSAE competition provides,” Hesler said.

Another major contribution to success is the development about 10 years ago of a team wiki to capture and pass on detailed technical CAD models, drawings, design review notes and more.   

2023 and 2022 cars with trophies
IM-23 on the race track

“The students also realized that they needed to start the design work over summer break so that they could start building the new car and be able to drive it right after winter break. This requires a team culture of dedication and professionalism that I have been in awe of these past few years!” Philpott said. “To be World Champions is just fantastic and of course, I have great pride in the team. To design and build a Formula class race car that can compete internationally against premier engineering schools, and come out on top, really is an outstanding achievement.  These are leading technical universities from around the world – Germany, France, Italy, UK, Japan, India, Korea, and Canada, to name just a few countries represented.”

On average, the FSAE team boasts approximately 150 active members from more than 20 academic majors, with around 30 serving on the competition roster.

Philpott, Hesler and Thompson all stressed the importance of university support over the years, in addition to many monetary and in-kind sponsors.

“The team really appreciates the college and department support over the years, including ESPL facilities and support staff, the College Design Council, MechSE’s machine shop and business office, as well as Dean Bashir and Grainger department heads,” Thompson said. “Without our supporters we wouldn’t be able to compete at this level.”

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This story was published February 26, 2024.