May 10, 2011 | Michael Smart
Story Highlights
  • The BYU team won 2nd place at the international competition in New Hampshire.
  • Their car uses both a gas engine and electric motor, often at the same time. 
  • 60 students applied for 14 spots on next year's team. 
Shiny blue "Y-brid" teaches undergrads engineering lessons

A hybrid formula racecar designed and built by BYU engineering undergraduates in BYU’s two-semester Capstone course finished second in an international competition at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The shiny blue car, which reaches 60 mph in about three seconds, achieves the equivalent of 42 miles per gallon during aggressive driving using gasoline and batteries.

This was the third year BYU has competed in the Society of Automotive Engineers Formula Hybrid challenge – last year’s was a fourth-place finish. But the team designed and built a brand new vehicle from the ground up. In this year’s model, the gasoline engine and electric motor both drive the wheels directly, allowing the car to be driven in hybrid mode, on gasoline alone, or just battery power.

The “Y-brid” and its team finished behind Texas A&M and ahead of UC-Davis and competition host Dartmouth. The BYU car was also featured at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Emerging Tech Day on its way back to Provo.

“The car is great, but what’s really significant about this project is that the students have developed the capability to create it,” said Robert Todd, a professor of mechanical engineering who coached the undergraduates on the team.

Those capabilities, which also helped take advantage of a new experimental 55-pound, 100-horsepower electric motor, expanded to include another major design innovation. The students adapted a fuel injection system more commonly used in motorcycle racing that enables them to shift gears while maintaining full throttle. The car also has an entirely new frame and chassis.

The enhancements helped the team win the competition’s most important event, the 22-kilometer endurance race, worth 40 percent of the overall score. They also took first in the business plan presentation.

The team worked every day from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. since the beginning of September on the car, with all-nighters and weekends piled on as the race drew near.

“When we started, I felt like, ‘We don’t know how to build a racecar!’” said Tim Luskin, student team captain. “But the biggest lesson I learned is that with optimism and enthusiasm you can overcome pretty much anything.”

That philosophy was severely tested on a Saturday two weeks before the race, when a wheel hub failed during a crucial trial run. It turned out that a difficult-to-make part had broken, but the team scrambled to replace it and had the car back on the road by Monday afternoon.

As BYU steadily improves its results in the Formula Hybrid design competition each year, momentum is building on campus around the project. More than 60 junior engineering majors expressed a desire to fill one of the 16 slots on next year’s team.

The project is sponsored by the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology as part of their Capstone program, a year-long senior class that pairs students with real-world engineering challenges.