I traveled to Michigan International Speedway to observe the Formula SAE 2010 competition. Gator Motorsports was kind enough to host me and allow me to tag along to all their events. I’m taking a lot of pictures and trying to learn as much as possible. You can follow my progress each day here.
Day 1: Technical Inspection
Its a frigid 46 degrees outside. A cold wind blows the entire day. There isnt a speck of sunshine. Hopefully tomorrow will be nicer.
The event is very well organized. A spectators guide, an event guide, and a student handbook can be found below. The student handbook contains a lot of useful information. It has the specs of all 122 cars, as well descriptions of each event.
Most teams arrive on Day 0 (Monday 5/10) so they can begin Day 1 bright and early at 7:30am. Vehicles are brought in and registered with the paddock (the word paddock is a carry over term from horse racing. It refers to an enclosure adjoining a racetrack where horses are gathered and displayed before a race). The paddock is a large parking lot where each team parks their trailer and sets up shop. There are a few vendors offering services to the teams. Hoosier is present and offers 20% off retail price on all tires and tire changes for $10. GM has a semi trailer with a drill press, a band saw, welding equipment, and some other tools. They are available to all teams free of charge. Lincoln Electric offers free welding service.
Adjacent to the paddock are three garages (G1, G2, and G3) and a main tent. This is where nearly all of the static events take place.
The reset of the day consists entirely of getting all the cars past tech inspection. The system works on a take a number queue. Long lines of formula cars, along with their teams, form outside G2 as they wait for their number to be called. Cars are not allowed to run their engines in this area due to safety concerns, so each car is moved using a push/bull bar, a metal rod with a handle that latches onto the frame of the car. Team members push on the rod, while a person in the cockpit steers the car. There is a side competition to recognize teams that make the funniest or most creative push/pull rod. Northern Illinois University has a bar attached to theirs. Technical inspection is a nerve-racking 30-45 minute process which involves several SAE Engineers combing over your car to make sure every single rule has been met. If a single rule was not followed, you are given a short time to correct it, otherwise you fail tech and must go to the end of the line. You cant compete in any event until you pass tech. If you miss your scheduled competition event because you failed to pass tech, youre given a score of 0. Everyone breathes a great sigh of relief to be done with tech.
Day 2: Noise & Brake, Tilt Table, Cost, Design, and Business Presentation
The weather here is terrible. I woke up to thunder and torrential downpour. I stayed in bed until it let up. Unfortunately for the FSAE competitors, the competition will only delay for dangerous weather. Thunder is heard, but there is no lightening over Michigan International Speedway. They gruel in the rain and wind at 7:30am, working hard to make final preparations on their car for the days competitions.
Once you pass tech inspection on Day 1, youre awarded a sticker. Today you have to earn two more stickersa tilt sticker, and a brake & noise stickerbefore they let your car on the track.
The tilt test involves banking the car to 60 degrees. This is to simulate 1.5G acting on the car and to ensure none of the cars will flip during cornering.
The brake & noise test is to ensure all cars fall within noise compliance and their brakes work properly. Cars are brought to the starting line. When the signal is given the car will accelerate. It must then brake within a specified distance.
All static events occur on this daycost analysis, business presentation, and engineering design.
The cost analysis involves the submission of a 200+ page cost report. Every nut, bolt, and washer must be documented and priced accurately. Machining operations are also taken into account. Points are deducted when judges decide the prices you have listed on paper dont match what you have in your car.
The business presentation is pretty straight-forward. A short 10 minute business presentation must be given to a panel of three fake executive board members. The premise is that you are designing your formula car for the weekend autocross enthusiast. You must argue the feasibility of your car versus other competitors. You must clearly argue why your car is head and shoulders above the rest. Ashley Averill, the President of Gator Motorsports, was kind enough to let me sit in on their presentation (I was the first outsider that has ever seen a Gator Motorsports presentation. Thanks!)
The engineering design event consists of a panel of judges which gather around your car. They carefully and meticulously examine every inch of your car, judging the design. It takes over 45 minutes and there is a lot feedback given on your design. Team members learn about something they might improve for next year. Its the most important static event. Its worth more than the other two.
Day 3: Acceleration, Skid Pad, and Autocross
Today’s schedule was a bit less hectic. The static events are over, only dynamic events from here on out. Today was three main events: acceleration, skid pad, and autocross.
Acceleration and skid pad are run in the morning. The acceleration event is scored on how quickly your car can travel 75m from a standing start. The even is designed to focus on engine performance and the suspension’s ability to maximize grip. The cars form a queue in the dynamic area. The dynamic area is part of the actual Michigan International Speedway track. Spectators are required to remain behind a huge 20 foot steel reinforced chain link fence. Bleachers line the fence so you can get a good view. Skid pad is designed to measure the car’s cornering ability while maximizing speed and tire grip. The course is two large circles that form a figure-8 pattern. The car makes two full circles on each side before exiting the course. Only the second lap of each circle is timed. This subjects the car to constant cornering forces and demonstrates how the car handles under such conditions. After lunch, the autocross began. Autocross is an 800m cone course, with many tight turns. A 2 second penalty is assessed for each knocked down cone. A 20 second penalty is assessed for going off course. Each driver gets two attempts and each car is allowed 2 drivers. Cars that are unable to complete the course with an average speed of 80% of the fastest car will not be awarded points. The top times were in the 63-65s range. Average was high 60’s, low 70s.
Day 4: Endurance
Today was very exciting. The endurance event is run the entire day. The teams are divided into a morning and afternoon group. The endurance course is 20-lap 22km circuit with a mandatory driver change at the halfway mark. Not all the cars make it to endurance, and those that do, not all of them finish. Endurance event is the knockout round. Last year, 69% of the teams failed to finish. Its a continuous circuit with cars being waived on and waived off continuously. Passing is authorized only when authorized by staff. From what I noticed thought, if you catch up to someone with will waive him into the passing lane until you safely pass. It wasnt an issued with slow cars holding up faster cars. When the first 10 laps are complete, the driver is ordered to pit and a mandatory 3 minute driver change takes place. The 3 minute time limit is mandatory this is to ensure that all drivers are properly secured to the car. Additionally no repairs or adjustments are authorized on the car during endurance. Only tire changes are allowed. After the driver change the car must be restarted without external assistance. Cars that fail to start will be deemed disabled and will be disqualified from the event. The day wrapped up with an exciting award ceremony. Oregon State University took first place! The results can be found here.