How Cool is That: a Team of Students Will Race a Formula Car

The SAE Formula car team at NJIT.

Students here get to work on a lot of cool projects, but perhaps none is cooler than this: On Friday, a team of students will race a Formula car – one they designed and built themselves.  

It’s a small prototype of a Formula car but one that nevertheless can hit speeds of 90 mph. The team is now out in Lincoln, Nebraska, preparing for the race, which is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The 15-member team belongs to the SAE chapter at NJIT. 

The team rented an RV and a trailer earlier this week and drove out to Nebraska. So along with racing a slick car they also get a summer road trip. They are documenting the trip on Tumblr. 

Dan Kubik, the captain of the Formula team and president of SAE, says working on the car has been a labor of love and an invaluable experience. It’s given the team a chance to apply their knowledge to a real-world project that could not be more exciting: designing and building a race car.   

In this Q&A, Dan, who graduated in May with a mechanical engineering degree, talks about the car and the contest and why it has all been so much fun.

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How long has the team worked on the car?

From when we started designing it to the competition this weekend was a two-year process.  It was a long labor of love.

How many hours a week did you work on it?

Each member on average put 12 to 20 hours a week into the car -- sometimes pulling all-nighters on weekends. I pulled several.

You put a lot into the car. What do you get out of it?

Team members receive hands-on experience and the satisfaction of building something they designed. Of course, driving the car after it’s completed, in the end, is a great feeling. This allows team members to get some real-life experience while they are still undergrads.  That experience is a great addition to the theory they learn in class.  

How does the contest work?  Must you work within certain specifications?

We have to follow a thick rule book issued by Formula SAE that covers many items, from the size of  the engine, to safety rules, to materials used.  It sounds contradictory, but the rules force team members to think outside the box. 

What is the Formula contest and race like? 

It's a four-day competition that's comprised of two main parts: static and dynamic. The static events include submitting technical reports. Those include a design report, a cost report, a business logic report as well as design specifications.  We must also present a business plan and explain our solutions to a jury of experts. The dynamic events include skid pad (the car’s cornering ability), braking, acceleration, autocross (the car’s handling on a tight course) and endurance, where the cars must travel a distance of 22 kilometers and are tested in categories such as speed, fuel efficiency and reliability. The endurance is the hardest part.  Only 30-50 percent of competitors finish the endurance race.

Does being on the team help you get jobs?

Members of Formula SAE stand out during interviews because of their experience. At the racing competition, companies such as Ford, GM and Chrysler will interview team members.  When students interview at major companies, recruiters will ask them very specific questions about the Formula car, such as what part of the car they worked on and exactly what they did.  Recruiters are impressed with team members because of their hands-on experience. Being a member of Formula SAE is a huge advantage when applying for jobs. Employers see it as an experience that very few other college students have. 

You already have a good job. Did being on the team help you get it?

Yes, I talked about all the engineering and design work I did on the car during my interview and they were impressed.  I have a great job working as a sales engineer for ALTA Enterprises in Pennsylvania.  But our team is so close that I’ve been commuting back to campus to get the car ready for the race.  When you love what you are doing, it’s not work: It’s fun. 

By Robert Florida