The University of Alabama Crimson Racing team recently finished in fifth place overall out of 120 registered teams at the 2022 International Formula SAE® series competition (FSAE) at Michigan International Speedway. Twenty-one of the team’s student members made the trip to Brooklyn, MI. There, the team finished each of the competition’s first three dynamic events in the top ten and successfully completed the extremely challenging endurance event, leading to the impressive result.
FSAE is one of the oldest and largest collegiate design competitions. It challenges university teams of undergraduate and graduate students to conceive, design, fabricate, develop and compete with small, formula-style vehicles. Throughout the competition, participants demonstrate and compare their creativity and engineering skills to other teams from around the world. The competition requires that all design, fabrication and operation be done strictly by active college students.
Jack Orear, a rising junior majoring in aerospace engineering on the STEM Path to MBA, is the team’s aerodynamics assistant lead. He said, “We learn how to work on one part of a big system. Almost everything I’ve done in FSAE has required working with many different people to integrate parts into the car, and that is an extremely valuable skill to have in engineering. The ability to think through a whole engineering project, from initial concept to testing, is a major takeaway.”
Scoring criteria are based on both static and dynamic events. Static events include evaluation of the vehicle’s design, a presentation related to business aspects of manufacturing a niche market racing vehicle, as well as a cost and manufacturing analysis. Each of these are evaluated by subject matter experts working in the automotive and motorsports industries. The four dynamic events include acceleration, skidpad, autocross and endurance. Scoring of the first three is based solely on elapsed time. The endurance event, which counts for 375 of the competition’s 1,000 total points, requires the vehicle to complete 22 km while racing against time at speeds up to 80 mph with absolutely no mechanical, electrical or safety issues. The endurance score is based on elapsed time and fuel consumption.
According to Paul Puzinauskas, associate professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Alabama and the team’s faculty advisor, the endurance event is often the deciding factor in an already grueling competition. “Typically, just a little more than half the teams that start endurance actually finish, and often those suffering the heartbreak of a DNF include some of the most capable teams otherwise,” Puzinauskas said. “The rules for staying on the track are very rigid: no loose parts, no leaks, no smoke. There is absolutely no allowance to fix things during this event. If you break, you are out.”
Puzinauskas said, “We beat teams with ten times our budget, and this was our highest finish in the history of the event. I am pleased that the incredible work the students put in was proportionately represented in the results. It was particularly gratifying to have students from some of the best technical universities in the world come to our pit to ask our students how they executed the design and fabrication of our vehicle.”
Rising senior majoring in mechanical engineering and team manager Lauren Woods said, “Despite having fewer resources than many of the top competing teams, we were able to not only produce one of the best-looking cars, but also one of the best performing.”
Even more valuable than the team’s impressive performance are the lessons learned through competing. Orear said, “I learned so much I could never completely describe it all. I learned about collaboration, different manufacturing methods, technical skills, attention to detail and project planning. I learned how much I don’t know and how to figure it out. I think that is my biggest takeaway from FSAE. Gaining the ability and confidence to admit and go learn what I don’t know has had a huge impact.”
Woods added, “Crimson Racing is a vital component of my education. It puts everything I learn in class into perspective. It allows me to take the theoretical knowledge and understanding from my courses and apply it in a practical, hands-on setting. Experiential learning is a huge competitive advantage and pairing the experiences I get in our design team with The University of Alabama’s courses puts me in the best possible position as I begin my career in the industry.”
Additionally, participation in the competition has long-term impacts on the students’ careers. Justin Trammell is a rising senior majoring in mechanical engineering, serving the team as suspension lead and one of the drivers. He said, “So far this competition has directly impacted my career in motorsports, achieving employment in US F3 as well as a highly successful LMP2 program. It has shown me that whatever the challenge, whatever must be done to reach the goals, can be achieved. No matter how hard it may seem, or how impossible, the grit and determination from FSAE can take me anywhere.”