Vol. 19, No. 33

June 8, 2000

UD automobile enthusiasts build formula race car

Think of it as an engineering lab on wheels — a mechanical engineering class with an attitude. It's UD car No. 51, a half-scale formula race car built by UD-SAE, the University chapter of the National Society of Automotive Engineers.

Founded in 1996, UD-SAE was established through the efforts of a handful of car enthusiasts and John Lambros, mechanical engineering, who agreed to serve as the group's faculty adviser after seeing how serious the club members were about putting a race car together.

"I got involved through the efforts of Suhas Malghan, EG '99 the person who started the club," Lambros said. "I like cars, and I was impressed with what he showed me, so I agreed to become faculty adviser."

Last summer, current club members began working on the most recent project, a vehicle to enter in national competition against other SAE clubs, held each May at the Silverdome, in Pontiac, Mich.

The car that made the trip recent to Michigan is a sleek, dark blue formula style vehicle, complete with a UD logo.

Powered by a 610 cc, 0.6 liter engine that cranks out 65 horsepower, the car is capable of going from zero to 60 mph in about 4 seconds.

"Driving this car is like no other car you have ever driven," club president Andy Parke, EG 2000, said. "When people get out of the car after driving it, their hands are usually trembling."

For most club members, joining UD-SAE represents a continuing love affair between car and driver.

"I got involved with this through the engineering outreach program," graduate student Dan Skilkitus said. "My dad always followed car racing, so it was just sort of passed on to me."

Although he claims not to have known much about cars, club secretary Wilson Steele, EG 2002, said he appreciates the chance to learn about the world of race car driving through his involvement with UD-SAE.

"My brother and my dad have been involved with cars all through the years," Steele said. "I just wanted an opportunity to do this for myself."

Before student members get to sit behind the wheel, much work has to be done, from coming up with an initial race car design to getting the car ready to pass the preliminary safety check at the Michigan national championships.

"The basic plans are sketched on paper," Mike Hawley, EG 2001, club vice president, said. "After this, the design is modified on the computer through the use of a computer-aided drafting program."

From the drawing board to the driveway, each step of the assembly process is performed by individual members united in a team effort.

"You plan as much as possible, then you start to put things together," Parke said. "You work out from the center, and you are constantly changing things as you go along."

Such a team effort is vital in assembling the various subsystems that include the chassis, drive train, steering and suspension, wheels, shock absorbers, tires, brakes and electrical systems.

"We have a wide variety of talent in our club," treasurer Alexis Cox, EG 2001, said. "In building the car, every person lends a hand where it is needed."

For Cox, who fabricated the car's fiberglass body through the use of vacuum-assisted resin transitional molding, putting race cars together is not exactly a new venture.

"I built two electric vehicles in high school," Cox said. "I knew UD had a club, and this helped me make the decision to come to Delaware."

The contributions made by individual members are put to the test during the championships, where more than 100 clubs from the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada and Japan gather to showcase their auto engineering expertise.

The competition consists of technical inspections complete with a thorough safety check, followed by static events and actual driving contests.

Among the static events are the presentation, where team members try to attract investments from business representatives, and the cost event, in which the judges are given full details involving the cost for each item used in building the car.

In the design event, where team members sit down with industry experts to demonstrate their expertise and explain their creative decisions. UD-SAE placed well in both events, finishing 22nd in the cost event and 23rd in the design event but the team did not place in the driving category.

While teams members recognize the importance of these competitions, all agreed that nothing is quite like the thrill of driving against the clock and their fellow competitors.

"The car is really quick, and you just can't compare driving it to anything else," Cox said. "The car handles nicely, and the acceleration is incredible."

Plans for next year include the use of a fuel-injected FZR 600 Yamaha engine and shedding of about 100 pounds in car weight through the use of a carbon-fiber body.

"Each year we build a whole new car," Hawley said. "And, with different design factors and new rules due out in September, you need to start on the project during the summer."

— Jerry Rhodes