June 27, 2013
UW gas-, electric-powered cars claim 1st and 2nd in national contest
Seattle is a long way from Detroit, but the West Coast team claimed a key win in last weekend’s student race car competition.
The University of Washington Formula Motorsports team took first place at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competition held June 19-22 in Lincoln, Neb. It’s one of the largest U.S. competitions that challenges engineering students to design and build a small race car fit for an amateur driver.
The UW student-built car – decked out in Husky purple, gold and white – placed high in several categories and clinched the overall win among a field of nearly 80 national and international teams. The overall win is a first for the student-run UW team, now in its 24th year.
“We were quite excited about the win,” said Daniel Wageman, technical director for the UW team and a graduate student in mechanical engineering. This is Wageman’s sixth year building a car and competing. “This year’s team was really strong and hardworking.”
The national competition this year included a first-ever electric car category. The UW team placed second overall out of 20 registered teams in the electric-powered division. A Brazilian university, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, won the competition.
The UW team of students, mostly undergraduates, collectively spent close to 60,000 hours designing, building and testing the two cars, said Evan Marquardt, public relations team lead and a 2013 graduate in mechanical engineering.
“It’s a pretty staggering undertaking,” Marquardt said.
In each competition, no single factor determines a win. Cars must first pass a stringent technical inspection, then are tested on factors including acceleration, fuel economy, design, endurance and team business plans.
Endurance, however, tends to make or break a team’s chance of winning, Marquardt said. Cars must drive 22 kilometers (about 14 miles), a feat that less than half of the teams accomplished at the national event last weekend. The UW team took first in this category.
“We prioritize design and endurance,” Marquardt said. “Our overarching team goal is not to build the fastest or lightest car, it’s to get the most points.”
This year’s car is based on last year’s, with some noted improvements. It’s lighter, has greater downforce and is more powerful. They finished the manufacturing in April, and began testing systems and driving the car to prepare for the competitions this summer.
The electric-powered car was built using an identical chassis and suspension system as the gas-powered model, but with different powertrains. The students designed a lithium-ion battery pack that feeds into an inverter, then into the motor itself. The battery is powerful enough to light a row of houses for a couple of minutes. Team members say they plan to continue developing their electric race car for future contests.
The UW team is competitive and student directors interview undergraduates who express interest in joining. The school year is rigorous – students design the race car during fall quarter, then start building it in December or January. They push to finish manufacturing by April so they can test the car’s systems and practice driving before the summer. Each spring, the following year’s directors begin designing the basic framework for the next year’s car.
With no automotive engineering courses at the UW, almost all of the work is self-taught or passed down through team members, Marquardt said. Participants learn to document everything through detailed written reports.
“This program is what makes us good engineers,” Marquardt said. “It’s very independent learning and it’s incredibly valuable to the students.”
The UW team received about $300,000 from alumni, fundraising and sponsorships, as well as in material donations to build this year’s cars. Students designed and built their cars mainly in the mechanical engineering machine shop on campus. The team’s faculty adviser is Ashley Emery, a UW professor of mechanical engineering.
The UW’s gas-powered car will compete next month at Formula Student Germany, a six-day competition that begins July 30. The UW placed 14th last year and hopes to take its car further this year against 75 student teams from 20 different countries. They are on the waiting list to compete in the electric-car division.
For more information, contact Marquardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-920-0176.