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Students revive Formula One race car competition

After years of dormancy and over a decade of absence from an international competition that originated at UH, the students from UH’s chapter of Society of Automotive Engineers are accelerating toward reestablishing the group’s presence on campus and in the collegiate community.   

The group, headed by electrical engineering senior Jeremiah Wennermark and mechanical engineering seniors vice-president Grant Mottershaw and president Jacob Gallery, is building a Formula One-style race car from scratch for the Formula SAE Series competition in Lincoln, Neb., June 15 to 18.

“If UH wants to be a real Tier One university, (it has) to have a Formula SAE team,” Mottershaw said.

According to SAE International’s website, the first ever FSAE competition was held in 1979 on the UH campus. Since that time UH’s SAE chapter has dwindled and its entries into the FSAE over the years have been sparse.

The team has to raise the funds and gather sponsors for the project. Its budget is roughly set around $35,000.

“We are making cold calls, mostly with old companies we interned with, and selling the idea of integrating school into real-life applications and the fact that they get to donate to a tax-deductible non-profit for education,” Wennermark said.

The team purchases certain parts, like the engine and electronics, but must fabricate the car themselves. The team must work together to solve problems and improve design.

More than 30 students make up this year’s FSAE team. The students must work together to design and build a car that succeeds in a multitude of design, fabrication and racing tests.

The students said that while they enjoy learning how to build a Formula One-style race car, it is the experience of team-building and solving problems without clear solutions that will help them seek out jobs after graduation.

“Employers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin really want to see participation in this competition on your resume,” Gallery said.

There are some students on the team, such as Wennermark, who have worked as technicians and already have experience in the field. Gallery sees that as an asset.

“UH being a commuter school actually gives us a huge advantage,” Gallery said. “Not just competition-wise but also leadership-wise because you get that experience from students who have worked a little in the field that you can’t get inside the classroom.”

The FSAE competition is part of SAE International’s annual Collegiate Design Series. The competition features entries from universities around the globe and consists of multiple evaluations that must be passed to move on to the final stages.

First, there are static evaluations such as cost, engineering design and presentation. Once a car passes the static assessments it moves on to the dynamic events, which include acceleration, top speed and endurance.

“For me, passing the static event and getting to the dynamic event is all that matters and if we do that, that will probably put us in the top 30 percent,” Gallery said. 

For Gallery, Mottershaw and Wennermark the FSAE car project is not just about doing well at this year’s competition. It’s also about creating excitement and interest for future students to grow and expand SAE at UH.  

Even though the students still have a long way to finish their car, they said they think the way to keep this momentum going for SAE is to get incoming freshmen and sophomores excited about the project and interested in participating. 

“The first couple of years of the engineering program you’re constantly hitting the books,” Wennermark said.  “This is a way to show them that this major can be really exciting and fun.”

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