CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Formula SAE racing team in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University has completed the most successful series of competitions in its history, winning an event in Austria against some of the most accomplished teams in the world and turning heads all over Europe.
This racing concept, organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers, allows students to build cars with a high degree of design flexibility, following only some basic requirements, and compete against students from other universities. It’s popular in the United States but an absolute rage in Europe, and historically has been dominated by those teams and large universities from the Midwest industrial belt.
That’s changing, however, based on an unprecedented level of mechanical innovation and collaboration by the OSU team.
“We’ve had competitive cars before, but this team really works together and knows what it’s doing,” said Jeff Delaney, an OSU engineering student and team leader. “Before this year we had not been a top-10 car since 1999. I think we clearly surprised a few people and made a name for ourselves.”
At a competition in Los Angeles in June, the team placed second overall among 50 entrants, and had first place showings in endurance, fuel economy and overall dynamic events. And that included a complete rebuild of the front suspension in an overnight marathon session.
In a competition in Germany the car was doing quite well until a muffler failed during the final race and caused a drop to 21st place overall among 78 entrants. But in Austria, where 24 teams were racing – including three of the top 10 teams in the world – OSU dominated the event, won the business presentation, autocross and endurance challenges, and placed first overall.
The OSU car was the combined efforts of about 35 students, mostly from the College of Engineering, and cost about $25,000 to build with donated funds and some support for travel from the college.
“This is one of the biggest, most complex challenges for students in engineering,” said professor Robert Paasch, a team adviser. “What really made the difference this year was such a high level of collaboration and teamwork. The students even worked with some German exchange students to improve their car.”
In Europe, Formula SAE racing is the biggest competition in collegiate engineering. Almost every university has a team and 1,900 students were present at the German competition.
Building the car involves knowledge of aerodynamics, chassis construction, and mechanical engineering, but also fund raising, business development and other tasks. The project management and teamwork skills students learn in the competitions are highly valued by many companies, Paasch said, and frequently lead to job offers.
Earlier this year, OSU students also won the national championship in the Baja SAE off-road racing competition – for the second time in four years.