February 10, 2006

Students Build Race Car

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In an engineering lab on the lower level of Upson Hall, a group of highly dedicated students work diligently on assembling a vehicle capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under four seconds.

Members of Cornell’s Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team, they are building a formula racecar that will compete against vehicles from 140 other engineering schools from around the world this spring.

Since Cornell first participated in 1986, its SAE team has won the competition nine times, including the last two years.

Students on the team are excited to be part of a winning tradition.

“I basically came to Cornell because of the team,” said Zack Eakin grad. “[I came] to be involved with the incredibly hard working and dedicated people who are the reason the team has enjoyed so much success.”

“The premise of the SAE competition is to build a car that autocrossers would purchase and use as a weekend race car,” explained Rob Rhodes ’06, a member of the team’s ergonomics and business squad, one of several such subgroups.

The Formula SAE competition is more than a simple race. Competing teams square off in a variety of events designed to evaluate various capacities of the vehicles.

The competition is divided into two parts: static events and dynamic events. Static events include a cost report, a design contest, a fuel economy competition and a business presentation. Dynamic events, considered the more exciting element, consists of a skid pad, acceleration test, an autocross – where the vehicle’s handling is put to the test – and culminates with an endurance race of 22 kilometers.

Cornell’s SAE team has about 40 members. Upperclassmen on the team receive three credits per semester for their involvement. Freshmen may participate, but for no credit; this is to ensure that they may scale back their commitment if necessary, according to business team member Jonathan Green ’08.

Team members are highly committed, logging between 20 and 60 hours a week on the project.

Unlike many other schools that fund their SAE teams themselves, Cornell Formula SAE’s budget of approximately $40,000 is underwritten entirely by outside individuals and firms, the largest of which is General Motors. In Cornell Formula SAE’s early years, in fact, GM donated the Upson Hall lab in which the vehicle is know assembled.

“All of our sponsors love seeing the car,” said Green.

Explaining why sponsors support the program, Green said, “It’s not just that we build the car. The team is run like a corporation. It’s a lot like the real world.”

Past members of the Cornell SAE team have gone on to

careers in the automotive industry, including working for NASCAR.

In the fall, team members design the vehicle. Over the winter, they build it. And in the spring, they test and tune it in preparation for the contest.

“While other students are enjoying their winter vacation we were here building the car,” Rhodes said.

“This is what we do,” said David Porter ’08, the engine rebuild team leader. “It’s pretty contagious. You get pretty excited about making something and then making it better.”

Archived article by Daniel Palmadesso
Sun Staff Writer