Students ready for racetrack challenge

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

A pile of pipes and bolts is actually an Indy-style race car in progress. It's being constructed by UBC Mechanical and Electrical Engineering students for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition in May in Detroit.

The 250-kilogram UBC vehicle is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 kilometres an hour in under five seconds and reaching a top speed of 150 kilometres an hour.

"The competition appeals to students who want to be the best engineers they can be," says team leader Brian Ward, a third-year Mechanical Engineering student.

Formula SAE involves the design, construction and dynamic testing of an open-wheeled racing car.

The competition, which attracts about 100 teams from across North America and Europe, has been staged since 1981 and is supported by Ford, GM, Chrysler and other large corporations.

UBC students have entered each year since 1990.

At the start, most have little or no knowledge of vehicle engineering or fabrication. They gain valuable design and project management experience by working on a selected portion of the car -- experience they don't get in a classroom.

"We've earned the electronics award two years running," says Ward. "Evan Short, who was in charge of electronics and graduated last year, is being interviewed by five of the top auto racing teams in the world. Others have gone on to exciting and rewarding jobs in industry."

Eight separately judged stages determine whether various performance and design objectives have been met. Static events include design and cost analysis. Among the dynamic events are acceleration, fuel economy and endurance.

Restrictions on vehicle design ensure that team knowledge, ingenuity and imagination is challenged. Driver safety is paramount. The engine air-take is limited to reduce power output and cars must meet strict side- and front-impact and roll-over standards.

The current team of 10 is busy with everything from engine testing and chassis analysis to constructing displays and maintaining a Web site at

The project is run entirely by students, including fund raising. The team's dream budget is $55,000, but they operate on less which is part of the challenge.

"To keep the competition fresh no car can be driven in more than two competitions, so the biggest job every year is finding new sponsors," says Ward.

The team has 35 to 40 sponsors including the Mechanical Engineering Dept., Kawasaki Canada and Magna International.