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Successful Rookie Season for Formula SAE Racing Team

Racers Place 21st out of 44

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A group of UMass Lowell engineering students recently competed in the annual Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) competition at the Virginia International Raceway in Alton, placing 21st out of a field of 44. Formula SAE is a student design contest sponsored by the Society in which teams design, build and compete in scaled-down, open-wheeled Formula-style race cars.

The group consisted of, from left in the photo, Guy Crecenzo, Alexander Petrov, Michael Gagnon, Jason Galda, Justin Pekarek, David Cloutier, Peter Wason, Matthew Flynn, Samuel Finch, Justin Massei, Christopher Warren, Krithika Swaminathan, Zaccur Fettig and Troy Lundstrom.

This was the University’s first entry into the event since 1996. The River Hawks Racing Team, composed of more than 20 mechanical and electrical engineering majors, was pitted against schools from across the U.S. and Canada in a series of races that tested the performance and endurance of the cars and drivers.  

“Everyone on the team worked really hard to get the project ready for this competition,” says Pekarek, the club’s vice president and leader of the car suspension team. “Completing all aspects of building a race car, from design and fabrication to assembly and final testing, was a great experience for us all.”

The car was powered by a 1997 Honda CBR 600 F3 motorcycle engine that produced about 75 horsepower. It could attain speeds well over 100 miles per hour but, for safety reasons, cones were added on the course to create hairpin and other tricky turns to slow down the cars and provide more driver input, says Pekarek.

“This project started with no financial support, no blueprint, no previous car and no funding ߞ; only the dream of a few car enthusiasts and a faculty adviser, Prof. James Sherwood, who inspired us to take on such a huge undertaking. During the course of a year, we had literally carved out a home next to the wind tunnel at Ball Hall,” he says. In addition to the support from the University, various local sponsors contributed to the project.

Pekarek estimates the total cost of competing in Virginia to be upward of $25,000. “This included the car, the tools, supplies, travel expenses, accommodation and shipping costs,” he says. “But it doesn’t reflect the thousands of hours of student labor and all-nighters put into the project.”

“My mom loves that I do this,” says Swaminathan, a mechanical engineering senior from Lexington who is the only female member of the team. “She’s constantly telling all her friends about it.”

Swaminathan says that as an engineering major, she has gotten used to not having very many women around. “For example, we only have three girls in a graduating class of about 40,” she says. Swaminathan will become the club’s VP next year.

“As a rookie team, we’re very pleased with our performance in Virginia,” says Pekarek. “Just making it through the initial technical inspection was a major milestone for us. We intend to design and build a completely new, lighter and faster car each year. We would also like to see the program grow to include not only engineering students, but business, English and art majors as well.”

 - Edwin L. Aguirre