Engineering team revs up in bid for design finish line

Students combine dedication, design, marketing and project management to fine tune their race car entry

For a dedicated group of engineering students, the hours that they spend tinkering on a race car are not only fun but may also help them gain invaluable hands-on skills and experience that potential employers covet.

Every year since 1992, about 30 to 35 UBC engineering undergraduates--members of the Formula UBC Team--devote countless hours each week outside of the classroom to work on an entry vehicle for the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Collegiate Design Competition.

The annual international competition lets teams of student engineers from more than 100 universities and engineering schools worldwide showcase their ability to design, construct and test an open-wheeled racing car.

With strict restrictions on design, weight and other specifications for each entry vehicle, the competition not only tests the students' engineering skills and knowledge but also their ability to create a budget and timeline, solicit sponsorship for the project, make travel arrangements and deliver the completed car on time. It is this combination of first-hand experience in marketing, project management, economics and engineering design that makes the participants highly attractive to future employers.

"Involvement with the Formula SAE team gives students the opportunity to develop practical, hands-on engineering skills, as well as business skills," says Matei Ghelesel, a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student. "We operate the team much like a small business by ensuring that our customers (sponsors) are kept up to date, and that our product (the car) is delivered on time and up to spec. Employers look favourably on this experience."

Indeed, several past members of the Formula UBC Team have gone on to jobs with well-known automotive and racing organizations such as Ferrari Formula One, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, and Ford/Cosworth racing in the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) series.

"Meeting deadlines is one of the most important skills in business," says team member Brian Ward. "The competition won't wait for us. If the car isn't done, we don't go.

"So the skills that I am using here will be the skills that I will be using when I am actually out working," adds the fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student.

The competition is sponsored by Daimler-Chrysler, Ford and General Motors and will be held from May 17-21 in Pontiac, Mich.

The entry vehicles are judged in eight categories including acceleration, fuel economy, manoeuvrability, engineering design and cost analysis. UBC teams have fared well in the past winning several top prizes such as "Best Rookie Car" (1992), "Best Intake Manifold" (1995), and top Canadian finisher (1996).

This year's team is sponsored by various companies that include Kawasaki, Creo Products Inc., Westport Innovations Inc., Aeco Design, and Chevron. The team also receives annual support from the Faculty of Applied Science and the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering.

more information

For more information about Formula SAE or sponsorship opportunities, contact the team at 604-822-2970 or, or visit