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It's go time for car team

ASU students complete their race car, open it up on the test track — just in time before hitting the road for national competition


Formula SAE students work in the shop.

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June 12, 2016

Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAEFormula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International). team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.

Machines can be things of beauty, and over the past year the student engineers of Arizona State University’s Formula SAE team have created something truly beautiful.

Their Formula-style race car’s design transmutes function into pure elegance. They shot for a simplistic design with handling performance, lightweight but stiff in suspension, chassis, and braking systems. The frame, nose cone, side pods, carbon fiber intake differential housing and mounts, and wheel centers are all student-designed.

The car doesn’t look like something a bunch of kids slammed together in a garage, because it’s not. Everything gleams. The beautiful welds, the coatings, the thoughtful and careful mechanics of it — this is something that was created with great care by professional engineers.

“I am proud to be a part of it,” said chief engineer Wes Kudela. “It’s been four years on this team. We’ve turned it around to where I can’t believe we built something this good and this beautiful.”

On Monday morning, the team will hit the road for the international Formula SAE competition in Lincoln, Nebraska, where they’ll compete with 79 other teams from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, Japan, and South Korea from June 15 to June 18. And as in any good story, the team experienced an 11th-hour setback, running into mechanical problems Friday evening but finding a way to power through.

Students test drive their Formula SAE race car on the track.

Curtis Swift shifts gears on a straightaway at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler on June 11. The nose cone will be the final piece attached before the competition after all other adjustments are made. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The concept behind the competition is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car.  The prototype is to be evaluated for its potential as a production item.  Each team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules. It’s far from just beating everyone else across the finish line; each team is judged on every aspect, including reporting exactly how many times each bolt was tightened.

In the final weeks, the checklist has been steadily crossed off: exhaust, suspension, clutch and throttle cables, wiring the engine.

The team got to test-drive it for the first time Thursday night in a friend’s shop parking lot.

“I got to drive the car. I’ve been on the team for four years, and I haven’t been able to drive a car that we can go fast in,” said Kudela, who reported that they took it through all five gears. “Being in that car was the biggest sense of satisfaction.”

The team secured a time slot Friday afternoon at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving race track in Chandler, but near the end of that test drive, they ran into problems with the differential mounts. It was all hands on deck back at the shop for a late night of repairs, but the team got the car back on the Bondurant track Saturday for more successful tests.

“Sunday afternoon and evening, we will be pulling the car in, cleaning it, finalizing it, making it look pretty,” Kudela said. And then it’s off to Lincoln.

Twenty-four team members will be going to competition, including ASU structure shop supervisor and welder Chris Wilkes and faculty adviser Steven Trimble, a professor of practice in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. A tour bus will take most of the team, followed by a U-Haul truck — rented with funding from sponsorships — carrying the race car.

“To turn a car in a year with all the goals we set, it’s outstanding,” Kudela said.

Kudela and many of the team members have sacrificed a lot to accomplish what they have. When the rest of campus was at the Territorial Cup or on spring break or home over the holidays, Formula SAE was working.

You could drop by unannounced at the shop in the Psychology North building on the Tempe campus and count on seeing engine team lead Michael Conard tinkering with the engine, manufacturing manager Arik Jacobson hunched over the chassis, team manager Troy Buhr smoothly talking to a potential sponsor, and team captain Pranav Mamidi in earnest consultation with sub-team leaders.  It has been a year of school, the car, and not much else.

“It’s going to be very relieving to hand it over,” Kudela said of the huge weight he has had on his shoulders as chief engineer of a team of about 110 members. The newly minted mechanical engineer hasn’t had time to look for a job, but he’s enjoying what he knows he’ll look back on as one of the best times of his life.

“I feel that way already,” he said. “Being in one of the largest clubs on the ASU campus has been pretty awesome.”

Kudela has confidence in the team leadership going forward and the institutional knowledge they’ve accumulated. Two years ago, most of the knowledgeable members graduated, leaving remaining members in a scramble to relearn a lot about how to build and finance a race car. He hopes this year’s car remains intact after the race, so it can be used for training, display, events and data acquisition, and he plans to come back as an industry adviser to the club.

“(The club is) going to continue to improve in tons of different aspects,” Kudela said.

Good luck, Sun Devil Motorsports 16. We’re pulling for you.

Students test drive their Formula SAE race car on the track.

Chief engineer Wes Kudela hammers it on a straightaway on the track in Chandler on June 11. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Previous stories in this series:

Oct. 14: Tempe Drift: How an underdog student engineering team is building a race car from the ground up.

Nov. 4: Racing time and money to build a fast car.

Dec. 10: Braking bad: Pressure is on for ASU student engineers building race car

Dec. 17: No brake: ASU team powers through to edge closer to race car

Feb. 1: Coming into the home stretch

March 8: Starting to look like a car

March 29: One step closer to PIR

March 31: Going full throttle for PIR

April 5: Drawing a crowd at PIR

Top photo: Carlton Peterson checks out his field of view in the Formula SAE race car on May 25 in Tempe. He sits low in the car, so his view is limited to obstacles right in front of him. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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