Formula Society of Automotive Engineers, FSAE for short, is a collegiate competition that takes place all over the world. Back in the fall of 2011 I saw this crazy Ariel Atom looking car buzzing up and down the street in front of my University (University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN). Being a car enthusiast myself, I was immediately interested in figuring out two things. First, what the heck was that thing? Secondly, how do I join? Turns out, the answers are pretty simple.

The Formula SAE team is a relatively new club to St. Thomas, but one that the engineering school is quite proud of. We are a group of typically 8 students who work tirelessly in the pursuit of one thing: building a bad ass race car. This is not as easy as it sounds. SAE rules stipulate a 610cc engine displacement limit. So, naturally, we use a 600cc motorcycle engine out of a CBR600rr. We students design 100% of the car. Suspension, steering, frame, uprights, differential mounting, everything. Some parts we source, such as, engine, transmission, differential, brakes, steering rack, and other bits we cannot make in house. Everything else, uprights, frame, oil pan, suspension arms, are all made in house. We are lucky to have a facility equipped with lathes, Bridgeport mills, and a Haas CNC machine. This equipment allows us to rapidly design and test new parts out. For the design, we use SolidWorks CAD program. We first model the frame then send it to a company in Canada to laser cut all the tubing. Using an incredibly precise, our tubes are laser cut and back to us in about a month. We fly an aircraft welder in and weld up the whole frame in a weekend.

Once about 4000 hours of design are put in, we can finally start ordering parts and building a car. We take about 4 weeks, the month of January, to assemble the entire car. Once this is done, the fun really begins: testing. This year, we are planning to have a complete rolling chassis by February 1st. Pending completion, we will be driving to whatever track is closest, snow free, and willing to let us test and tune our car. Personally, I am responsible for the electrical system and the tuning of our ECU (a microquirt), so if any reader has a helpful hint, drop a comment and I would love to chat.

All this hard work and thousands of hours of design, build, and tuning, for what? A competition every year in Michigan International Speedway. Every May, 120 teams from around the world come to show off their hard work and compete in static and dynamic events. These events include a 0 to 60 acceleration test, skid pad (some teams pull 2+ G’s), a 20km endurance race, and a business presentation and design review. During the design review, judges from industry ask exceptionally in depth questions to each member of the team about individual components, and the car as a whole. This is an event where our countless hours of design really come through. Components are scrutinized as to why they’re there and what relation they have with the other components. It’s a very proud moment for teams who build a car thoroughly, and a nightmare for teams who don’t.

There is a lot of fun to be had with FSAE, but it’s not all fun and games. It is a real challenge and teaches young, not just engineering, students to work cooperatively and seamlessly. Every single part has to be placed with a reason. Every single dimension has to serve a purpose. It is properly stressful stuff at times. However, at the end of the day, we are all students here to learn and have a good time.

*Photos by Ranch Rellim Photography