Sun Devil motorsports team progresses on build, trying to secure April appearance at Phoenix International Raceway
Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAE Formula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International).team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.
It’s coming together.
The Formula-style race car being built by the Arizona State University students of the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers is taking shape, but they are still under pressure to get it track-ready for the testing they didn’t have time for last year.
Despite money woes, scarce resources and even injuries — a few team members sported wrist braces from a four-wheeling trip to the dunes at Glamis, California — they are soldiering on through the build and looking ahead to the national competition in Nebraska in June. Morale is high; one team member is even celebrating being hired at Ford.
“I’m happy with the progress, but it’s still stressful,” said chief engineer Wes Kudela, a senior in mechanical engineering. “We’re not done. We’ll make competition for sure, but we want to test it a lot. … In no way can we slow down.”
On the second build day of the semester, the shop is humming. Every table, component, part and laptop has a dozen student engineers clustered around it.
Formula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers. Competitors are expected to operate as car manufacturers. They have to master all aspects of business: research, design, manufacturing, testing, developing, marketing, management and fundraising.
The concept behind the competition is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. The prototype is to be evaluated for its potential as a production item. The target consumer is the non-professional weekend autocross racer. Each team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules.
As of late last month, the chassis — a huge project in itself — is finished. The control arms were being welded. The wheels were being assembled.
“From there on out it’s just parts coming together,” said team captain Pranav Mamidi, a senior in mechanical engineering.
When the Sun Devil Motorsports 16 is done in mid-February, it won’t look pretty — the nose cone won’t be on, for example — but it’ll be track-ready for testing. The aesthetic crunch will come later, as the team preps for a possible appearance at the Indy car races in Phoenix in April.
The team is trying to get a presence at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2. They’ve asked for a booth in the vendor section (a $20,000-$30,000 value) or — even better — a lap around the track as the pace car in front of thousands of TV eyeballs.
“We’ll get something,” said team manager Troy Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering. The pace-car lap might be tricky. “They said we have to be insured. I have no idea how to do that,” he said. “I’m not really experienced with insurance.”
Contributions from sponsors are popping up. Team members are meeting with Hexcel — a materials company that makes carbon fiber and composite materials for aerospace, defense, wind energy and other markets — for sponsorship in mid-February. Hexcel will provide thousands of dollars in carbon fiber parts.
“That’s been confirmed, so we’re excited about that,” Buhr said.
Another contribution was brake calipers from Brembo Brakes, the manufacturer of brakes used by Porsche and other automotive companies.
“Brakes are pretty much done,” Mamidi reported.
They bought pedals, a steering rack, steering column, tires and a Taylor differential.
“Designing a differential isn’t the easiest thing,” Mamidi said.
Tires are an issue. The team needs sets of wet tires (for driving on wet surfaces) and dry tires. They need a few sets, at a cost of about $1,400 per set. The tires are soft rubber, like climbing shoes. They grip really well, but they also last about 28 minutes on the track. During cornering and driving, the rubber spreads out to the edge of the tire, and eventually it loses its grip.