Students hit the road with Formula One racer

Christina Chaey

For McCormick senior David Evitt, building an award-winning race car and entering it in an internationally renowned competition is simply an extension of his classroom learning experience.

“It’s a unique opportunity to participate in a design process,” he said. “I guess I’m just a dorky engineer, but I just really enjoy making stuff. For us, it’s sort of like an engineering playground where we get to think about things and build them.”

The students of NU Motorsports entered their Formula One-style racing car in their first Society of Automotive Engineers International Formula competition two weeks ago. The student group was created during Fall Quarter 2007, when several students got together to provide an outlet for those interested in applying their classroom skills into real-world projects, said Evitt, who is in the five-year McCormick co-op program.

The competition, Formula SAE, which ran from May 14-18 in Brooklyn, Mich., was open to about 120 international collegiate teams. Vehicles are judged based on their design, cost-effectiveness and speed, as well as a marketing sales pitch teams make to a panel of judges who act as potential investors.

“Formula SAE is very interesting because it is a motor sport race competition, but it’s also a collegiate design competition,” said McCormick junior David Price. “Everyone is really willing to help each other out. We’re not really cutthroat as much as a whole bunch of guys who want to go into automotive engineering.”

Formula SAE officials could not be reached for comment.

The six team members took a year and a half to design and build their formula-style racing car, Evitt said.

“Usually it’s a one-year build cycle,” he said. “But we got started with nothing to build off of, so we totally had to start from the ground up.”

The car, which is currently on display in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, had an estimated $20,000 budget, though some of the other teams spent as much as $80,000, Price said. The team received $3,000 from McCormick, but members raised the rest of their funding themselves, he added.

“Among teams that get money from their schools, we’re right in the middle,” Price said. “It’s unusual for teams to get more than $5,000 from their school. A lot of the sponsorship we get is in the form of free parts or materials from race car companies that have parts that we want.”

The team placed second in the best rookie team category and 37th out of 114 teams in the design category.

“We’re really excited about the design score because that sort of puts us on par with teams that have had long-established programs,” Evitt said.

The team worked independently of both of their faculty advisers, Stephen Carr, associate dean for Undergraduate Engineering, and Stephen Jacobson, a McCormick design and prototyping specialist.

The team made friends and valuable contacts at the competition, which is necessary to networking at an early age, Carr said.

“It’s been a fabulous experience for a number of our undergraduates, because they got the chance to do something they really have a passion for,” he said. “Whatever they designed and built, they understood that there are issues with every turn.”

The team plans to modify certain aspects of the car and hopefully drive it over the summer, Evitt said.

“A lot of work goes into some of these cars so it was really inspirational to be there and see where the bar is set,” he said. “Just to walk around and see what other people are doing helps us get some momentum and ideas for next year.”

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