Students driven by racecars

UH has been called ‘Houston’s best kept secret,’ but students in the College of Technology are doing their best to put the University’s name in the fast lane.

The College of Technology’s Formula SAE program has been building and racing cars since 2007. At first glance the program may appear to be a mere extracurricular project, but further inspections reveals more.

Mechanical engineering technology senior Alfio Arcidiacono has been a member of the Formula SAE team since its inception.

‘Formula SAE starts out like an extracurricular activity,’ Arcidiacono said. ‘But it’s such an involved extracurricular (program) that most professors want their students to make the most of it and encourage them to revolve their senior design project around their Formula SAE.”

Arcidiacono became team captain in 2008 and his group built and raced UH’s first competition car in 21 years.

Today, UH’s team has more than 10 members, including six underclassmen, who are mentored by graduate students.

The UH car races in competitions organized by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The first SAE Mini Indy competition was held at UH in 1979.

‘Students design and build their own Formula-style racecar to go to competition at the end of the year against 100 other colleges from around the nation,’ Arcidiacono said.

Mechanical engineering technology junior Marwyn Garcia said he became interested in the car after seeing Arcidiacono at a College of Technology gathering.

‘He told me to just show up to the meetings and things went from there,’ Garcia said.

Since joining the Formula SAE team Garcia has been working with Arcidiacono to tune their racecar for the track.

‘I’ve been helping him for the past month, staying until three in the morning working on the car,’ Garcia said. ‘We want to make sure everything is as close to perfection as possible with the resources we have.’

Garcia said he has been interested in cars all her life and working on UH’s Formula SAE team has fueled his passion.

‘I’ve been into cars since I was ten,’ Garcia said. ‘I helped my dad out doing maintenance on our cars. (In high school) I would go out every weekend racing cars with my brother and was constantly rebuilding the chasse and reinforcements on our cars.’ My interest has grown exponentially. I’m more interested now than ever.’

SAE has American competitions in California, Michigan and Virginia and international competitions that change location each year.’

‘They have three different competitions in America and four different competitions across the other continents,’ Arcidiacono said. ‘(The University of Texas, Arlington,) has had a year when they went to the Formula SAE competition in Japan.’

Though their car didn’t place in their first Formula SAE competition, Arcidiacono and his team took their racecar to a competition at UT-Arlington in 2008, where it did well.

‘For a first-time team we did pretty well,’ Arcidiacono said. ‘The fastest time of the day was 31 seconds and we ran a 38. Average times were somewhere in the 36s.’

Building a car from nothing is not cheap, and most of the funds come from sponsors, he said.

‘We’re reusing parts from last year to cut costs. Certain teams have a structure and program installed to bring in money – here we’re just trying to make it happen,’ Arcidiacono said.

UH’s Formula SAE team has just picked up a major donor.

‘We’re being sponsored this year by Mystik, a division of Citgo,’ Arcidiacono said. ‘We’ve generated a platinum-level sponsorship from them, with $1,000 from other sponsors here and there.

While their Citgo sponsorship helps, the team is always in need of sponsors.

‘Just the logistics to get to competition is around $5,000,’ Arcidiacono said.’ ‘The cost of the car, if you add it up with the parts we’re using from this year and what we’ve bought from last year, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $17,000.’

The next Formula SAE competition is in June in Fontana, Calif.

Arcidiacono said at this point, the project has become very consuming.He estimates the number of man-hours he put into last year’s car totaled more than 1,000.

Arcidiacono’s job as team leader extends beyond just building the car, he said.

‘I live this right now. I eat, sleep and breathe this thing.’ If I don’t sleep well at night it’s because something isn’t right with the car.’ If I sleep well it’s because I’m happy with the car,’ he said.

Garcia said he shares Arcidiacono’s enthusiasm and hopes her hard work will pay off as the UH Formula SAE team has its eyes on the prize.

‘You go back to one thing -I’m building a racecar. So I’m going to go all out and see where it takes me,’ Garcia said. ‘As much frustration (as) we’ve gone through, there is still that much excitement. We’re building a racecar. We’re going to go to compete. Giving up is not an option.’

Information about UH Formula SAE team can be found at,

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