The UWashington Formula Motorsports team is more than just a club at the UW. Each undergraduate member plays a small but very essential and crucial role in one of the most challenging projects offered on campus: Build a formula-style electric race car (eCar) and a combustion race car (cCar) from scratch, from design to racing every year.  

The UW Formula team has a few goals: producing world-class engineers through a commitment to learning and innovation, justifying design decisions through engineering methods and validating simulations with physical testing, and designing, building, testing, and tuning two cars to maximize points at all events of competition. 

The team begins design in the fall, manufactures parts in the winter, assembles and tests out their cars in spring, and then competes in the summer. 

“[Joining the team] was a way of making UW, the 45,000-student campus, feel like you have a home because I work with 80 people who I know well every day at the pit, and we always have something interesting to do and talk about,” said Richard Baron, composite manufacturing lead and member of the aerodynamics technical team. “We have a common goal that progresses our education and our careers.”

In December, the UW Formula team will begin creating the components for its cars, beginning with the suspension and chassis. Team members will slowly add in electronics, aerodynamic parts, and other components throughout winter quarter. By spring, they hope their car will be ready for testing. 

“Ironically, one of the hardest parts of having our car is actually moving it around, because we can’t drive it places,” Baron said.

The team participates in two competitions every year. The first is in Lincoln, Neb., where they compete against American teams, and the second is in Germany, where they compete on an international level. 

“It was just so much fun driving out to Nebraska,” team purchasing officer Nicholas Lanzoni said. “We jammed out to Taylor Swift at five o’clock in the morning, [the team was] just pumped for the competition.”

For over 30 years, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has hosted its annual competition, Formula SAE. The competition allows students to design, build, and create a formula-style racing car, and compete against similar racecars built by other students from the United States and all over the world. Currently, there are over 500 teams that compete worldwide. 

The biggest part of the SAE competition is the endurance portion, where the car has to travel many laps around a course. 

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you built your car in nine months and you’re racing as fast as you can, it’s asking for a lot,” Lanzoni said. “Only 33 percent of cars finish endurance in competition. It just gets so intense because you’re just like cringing and hoping that everything holds together on your car.”

The SAE judges more than the performance of the car. Cost, maintainability, reliability, ergonomics, and aesthetics are also aspects that the teams have to address in competition. 

This will be the 28th year the UW will compete in the Formula SAE, so the 2016 team is aptly named Team 28.

Last year, the UW Formula Motorsports team placed fourth in design at the Formula Student Germany Competition. The team placed 27th overall due to some technical and mechanical issues. The team had won second place in design in the U.S competition that year, though a blown valve in the cover gasket brought them down to 13th overall. 

The team will be using components of the eCar they made in 2015 in competition this year because it still hasn’t seen a race. According to the SAE, once a car has been in competition, it can no longer be used. 

The team is currently designing and building the cCar from scratch and will hopefully have it ready for competition by summer. 

“We put in a lot of late nights,” Lanzoni said. “There’s been times where I would come home after 15 hours at the machine shop, but one of the most rewarding things is even if it’s like four or five in the morning, everyone has been working for 16 hours straight. You can still make a joke and everyone is in the mood, I just can’t believe the overall character of this team. I can’t even describe it. We are way invested and I love it.”

The 80-member UW team is composed of sub-teams for engines, suspensions, composites manufacturing, manufacturing, aerodynamics, drivetrain, and chassis, and each member in the team is responsible for a part. Together they work long hours to produce their own designs, perform and test their mechanics, manufacture their own carbon fiber parts, and produce nearly everything in-house.  

“We look for people who are passionate and who are going to stay involved,” Baron said. “We don’t have people who only show up for weekly meetings, we have people who barely sleep because they are working really hard.”

Members not only gain invaluable experience by working hands-on every single day to create even the smallest components of the car, but also gain relationships and knowledge beyond what a classroom can offer. The members learn everything they need to know about engineering and cars at the pit, from each other, and from self-conducted research.

There are countless opportunities for members as they not only receive experience in design, manufacturing, testing, and research, but also in management and fundraising. 

“We have to individually cost every single part that’s on the car, from the nun bolt to the materials, costs of assembly, and manufacturing,” Baron said. “We actually have a business team that puts together a presentation as if we were to build and sell our cars to the public and how we would model that business. It can get crazy.”

Every member is held accountable for the work they do, as they each have to fill out technical reports for everything they design or create. 

Members of the formula team can be awarded between three and six credits per quarter for the experience gained. 



Reach reporter Praphanit Doowa at Twitter: @prabdoooowa

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