It took a while for UMass Lowell’s Formula SAE team to get going, but once it secured funding in 2008, it was, so to speak, off to the races.
“After hearing about this competition from one of its judges, I started recruiting and bringing a team together during the 2006 fall semester,” says then-president Chris Warren, now the team’s senior technical adviser. “It took a while to get organized and things didn't really take off until about a year later when Prof. James Sherwood, the director of the Baseball Research Center, basically handed us a carte blanche for funding.”
Sherwood was later able to get an UMass Lowell alumnus and philanthropist to cover the costs of the first car the team designed, dubbed the “Bat Mobile”. The team planned to fundraise and re-pay the alum within a couple years.
“Very few people are willing to fund a project such as this unless there is some establishment in place already, so he was willing to help us get off the ground,” says Warren.
Formula SAE (FSAE) is an auto design competition for universities; the first contest was held in 1978 and was originally called the Mini Indy. The team that has won most of the events since then is TU Graz from Austria, which competes with a budget of $250,000 and is sponsored by Red Bull.
In that first year, the UMass Lowell 2008 car was built in approximately two months after years of planning and design. The “Bat Mobile” competed at the Virginia International Raceway that April, placing 21 out of 44 teams.
“Once the 2008 car was built and brought to competition, we knew we could do it again, and do it much better,” says Casey LaCourse, the current president. “We started design work on a 2009 vehicle, and the entire car benefited from what we learned from the 2008 competition. We decided to make a state-of-the-art chassis with an advanced suspension system, and the motor was upgraded to use the newest in fuel injection technology.”
The club is now entirely funded by private investors, which allows its members to form relationships with business sponsors. Nonetheless, compared to other universities, UMass Lowell’s club has limited funding.
“This is why we are going to the New England International Auto Show,” says LaCourse. “It allows us to showcase our car to a large venue of people, and we will be able to show our car with a $16,000 budget, compared to that of MIT and Brown University's vehicles with $80,000 budgets.”
In the summer of 2008, the team started planning and designing its current car.
“It was to compete in the FSAE competitions at Virginia and Michigan International Speedway in April and May 2009, respectively,” says Warren. “The new design is radically different from the first and the team was very ambitious in its goals.”
The car was only 90 percent completed when it came time for competition, so the car was saved for the 2010 season.
“We decided that it would be best to build the car in a two-year design cycle,” says LaCourse. “This would allow us to explore things such as wind tunnel testing, more dynamic testing and more finite element analysis to better improve our design.”
The River Hawks will race in the upcoming Michigan competition in May 2010. The club is looking for students of all majors to help with the upcoming races.
“We are looking for a strong finish in the Michigan competition, and we are not only a group of Mechanical Engineers -- we are in need of students from every department,” says LaCourse.
For more information on the FSAE, visit its website.