Race team preps for new season

Published: Feb 26, 2009 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Reynolds Fuller,

Source: The Plainsman

The Auburn Formula Society of Automotive Engineers racing team is spending hours in workshops preparing for its upcoming season.

The team participates in the Official Formula SAE series, which is a student design competition organized by SAE International.

The team starts the season with a competition in Virginia in April, followed by the national championship in Michigan in May and then another competition in California in June.

After having a less than desirable outcome last year in Michigan, the team is ready to prove itself.

It came in 57th place overall out of 120 teams, a fallback from 2006 and 2007 when it finished 15th and 12th respectively.

In 2008, the team ran into performance problems because of the car's difficult design, resulting in an inability to compete in the endurance race.

"In the endurance race, half of the teams don't finish," said team member Matt Cromer, a junior in mechanical engineering. "Only once we didn't finish out of five races."

Each year all teams competing in the Formula SAE racing competition must design, build and test a prototype race car from scratch. Teams have to do this while following a set of rules or formula given to them by the society.

Team manager Beau Helton, a senior in mechanical engineering, said 90 percent of the car is manufactured in-house.

Helton, along with many members of the team, can spend more than 60 hours in their workshops a week.

It is a complete hands-on experience for the students.

"We can have no direct involvement from advisors and outside engineers, but they can give us advice," said team member Austin Smith, also a senior in mechanical engineering.

War Eagle Motorsports, comprised of the five Samuel Ginn College of Engineering student design teams, organized an exhibition race in Birmingham at the Barber Motorsports Park in January.

Six universities competed in acceleration, skidpad, autocross and endurance events.

Teams will face these same events as well as design, presentation and cost of car events at each of the Formula SAE competitions.

The team started preliminary designs for the 2009 Formula-style race car this past summer. The team is a week away from finishing its car.

"We are a month ahead of schedule," Helton said.

Helton said this will give the team more time for testing.

In the past, the team has tested its cars in C Zone at night while other students are not around.

The extra practice time should give the team a chance to fix many of the problems that might occur during competition.

Even though the team has sponsors, the economy is still taking a toll on the racing team and the series.

The University started sponsoring the team several years ago.

Now the team is half-sponsored by the University and half-sponsored by various businesses the team must obtain itself.

"We're at the mercy of the businesses," Helton said. "We haven't been getting nearly enough sponsorship."

The team, which was first formed in 1996, generally has 25 to 30 members. It is not limited to engineering students. Any student can join.

The team meets at 7 p.m. on Mondays in Ross Hall.

It is always looking for additional help from interested students who are willing to put forth the necessary time and effort that goes into getting ready for a competition.

"It's blood, sweat and tears with a little motor oil mixed in," Helton said.