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Intellect

BYU's new formula car races for engineering prize

Brigham Young University students have a strong tradition of using engineering know-how to build or modify various types of vehicles for racing, including Electric Blue, numerous Mini Baja dune buggies and a General Motors EV1.

A core team of 19 engineering, technology and industrial design students entered the next phase of BYU racing when they travelled to the California Speedway in Fontana to participate in the Formula SAE West competition June 14 -17. Seventy schools are scheduled to compete.

Led by faculty adviser Robert Todd, the BYU students built a sleek formula racecar from the ground up, using lightweight composite parts. Click to see video.

"This competition is considered by many to be the most prestigious university engineering competition in the world," said Todd, a professor of mechanical engineering. "It's a great real-world kind of experience for the students. It enables them to see what it's like to interface with vendors, to make decisions about what components to use and to use good engineering judgment in all of the analysis work that's done to enable the vehicle to perform well. It's a tremendous opportunity for learning."

The car, which weighs about 500 pounds and can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds, was designed on a computer and constructed using a state-of-the-art 5-axis mill.

Additionally, the car features an extensive on-board system of more than 20 sensors that gather real-time performance information and transmit it via a wireless connection to students using a laptop computer. Students can tell how fast the car is accelerating, how hot its tires are and how well it's handling turns, among other things.

One of the team captains, Ryan Blanchard, says that the work he and fellow BYU students have been doing on the car gives them an experience they can't get in a classroom.

"We experience all the same problems that you do in a real-world engineering project," said Blanchard. "For me, the actual number-crunching part came easy – we'd all done that for the past three or four years. The benefit here is that we learn project management and communications skills that are hard to develop in other ways. It's been a thrilling, phenomenal challenge."

The car cost approximately $36,000, with funding coming from donors and the BYU Mechanical Engineering Department. National Instruments Corporation, a supplier of measurement and automation products used by engineers and scientists, also sponsors the car, which will be driven by several BYU students during the competition.

"The events are all very safety-oriented," said Todd. "Because the competition is a race against the clock and not other vehicles, students are able to do the driving."

Competition categories include acceleration, braking, design and endurance. In preparation for these and other tests, the students participated in four teams that focused on building and perfecting the car's frame, body, suspension and steering.

"The students are very excited. They've given up a lot of sleep, but they have done excellent engineering work," said Todd. "I think they will make BYU very proud."

Blanchard, too, is optimistic.

"Some of the preliminary testing we've done says we've got a pretty fast car, so we think we'll do well. I'm confident we'll give the other teams a run for their money."

Other team members include Brian Andersen, Eric Bowman, Jon Burton, Charlie Crosby, Luke Graham, Dolan Hall, Josiah Hughes, Timothy Huntzinger, Miles Jackson, Scott McEuen, Joel Neff, Eric Perry, Scott Pruett, Daniel Rogers, Sam Shimp, Joey West, Ryan Williams and Brian Winder.

For more photos and information about the car's design, construction and testing, click here.

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