Sunday, May 9, 2010

Formula SAE

John Marine | 5/09/2010 04:11:00 AM | | | | | |
(UPDATED: July 6, 2014)

Formula SAE is one of the most popular collegiate competitions in the world. Cars built are completely made by students. You don't even have to be an automotive engineering major to enjoy Formula SAE. SAE International, or the Society of Automotive Engineers, is the principal body behind this style of collegiate competition since 1978. If you think that FSAE is more like wheel-to-wheel racing you're used to seeing on TV, think again. Formula SAE primarily focuses on building a formula-type race car that passes a bunch of key areas. FSAE is not the only program devoted to formula racing for schools, but it's the most popular. This program even featured in the February 2007 edition of Road and Track Magazine.

This blog entry will share as much as I know about Formula SAE. This is a chance for me to talk about Formula SAE.


JUL 6 2014 - made a number of edits to update this very old post.

PERSONAL NOTE: Thanks to all of you for continually reading this blog post despite it being very old! I appreciate your support!

--- Formula SAE at a Glance ---

The premise of Formula SAE entails many things. The least of which includes developing technologies to perhaps create better technologies for existing cars, or it can be just to challenge college students to build a formula race car that meets a variety of different aspects. There are multiple Formula SAE divisions around the world as well as here in the United States.

The scenario is that a fictional team wants colleges and universities to build a formula race car for them. To be used as a product, it must meet a number of key points for it to sell. Schools are in charge of everything from building up these cars to testing them and racing them. You build it, you test it, you race it. Not only that, you also have to make sure it meets a few different performance and efficiency standards.

Aspects of Grading Formula SAE Cars.

Here are some of the many different areas in determining what car ends up winning top honors:
• overall cost
• efficiency
• performance
• fuel consumption

Most of the teams that make these cars usually make cars powered by motorcycle engines. There are a variety of specific specifications usually listed by SAE International. For example, Wichita State University's Formula SAE car is powered by the engine that powers the Honda CBR600RR. There are even motorcycle mufflers used on a lot of FSAE cars.

Cars are usually built by the automobile engineering colleges at universities. You have everything to try to make an FSAE car. You have to weld the frame, build a body for the car, put on some tires, and add whatever little touches you like to make the car stand out. Don't expect to see any cars that could start in a Formula One Grand Prix race. Most of the cars have blunt edges and noses. Some cars have rear wings while others don't.

More information on performance criteria and car regulations can be found at the conclusion of this blog entry.

--- Why I Love Formula SAE ---

The thing that stands out to me about Formula SAE is the fact that students build and race these cars. Outside of racing, many go on to mostly look for jobs in the fields of automotive engineering, making automobiles and automobile technologies run more efficiently.

Also, it's the closest I'll ever imagine colleges racing for pride without doing any true wheel-to-wheel racing.

--- Formula SAE Cars in Photos ---

This section pertains to various colleges and universities that have or still take part in Formula SAE competition. You will see various Formula SAE cars from many universities and colleges. I'll show you some pictures followed by various schools that take part in, or have taken part in, Formula SAE competition. Here are some pictures now:

American Teams.

THE Ohio State University Formula SAE
^ from: - Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute's Formula SAE car in 2008. They have one of the longest-running programs in Formula SAE, starting all the way back in 1992.

Ohio State FSAE
^ from: - Ohio State's Formula SAE team (also called Formula Buckeye).

University of Michigan Formula SAE
^ from: - a Formula SAE car by the University of Michigan. I can't mention Ohio State without mentioning Michigan! :)

University of Texas-Arlington Formula SAE
^ from: - the 2008 Formula SAE car of the University of Texas-Arlington. Some of their cars are the most sophisticated-looking FSAE cars you will ever see.

International (including Canada and Mexico) Teams.

Here are some non-American schools that have taken part in Formula SAE:

University of Toronto Formula SAE
^ from: - a Formula SAE car made by the University of Toronto in 2000.

Helsinki Poltechnical University Formula SAE
^ from: - Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia's Formula SAE car.

Tokyo Denki University Formula SAE
^ from: - a Formula SAE car made by Tokyo Denki University.

Monash University Formula SAE
^ from: - a Formula SAE car made by Monash University in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

--- Formula SAE Preparation and Shakedown ---

Many teams don't have the luxury of using a race track, so a lot of schools simply use roads around campus as well as parking lots. This bit of shakedown testing will help put each Formula SAE car through their paces. It will give schools a better idea as to the amount of progress made on their cars.

Here are two YouTube videos to show off shakedowns. The first one is on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth around parking lots. The second one is a news piece with a shakedown on a race track featuring the University of South Florida. Have a look:

--- Formula SAE Competition ---

School pride (and sometimes national pride) is on the line in these events. You are going up in most competitions against schools from around the world. The competition process is in

Most of the events are primarily autocross-style competitions. Formula SAE cars must manuver around a set of cones. Anyone used to autocross racing know what to expect. You have to be within cones and may even have to do slalom runs. There are also skidpad tests and endurance tests.

Here is a sample of what a Formula SAE competition is like:

Now a look at individual events.

Acceleration Events.

From a standing start, blast from the starting gate to the finish gate in the quickest amount of time. This is where drag racing skill comes into play. The course is about a 75 meter drag strip (which is about 3/4 of an American gridiron football field).

Autocross Events.

Formula SAE cars are asked to clear an open circuit autocross course. Keep the car within the cones and be sure to properly slalom around slalom cones. Fastest time wins. Most of these occur around parking lots and some race tracks. For example, the University of Texas-Arlington competed in an Autocross section that used part of the infield road course of Texas Motor Speedway.

Skidpad Event.

Formula SAE teams face a skidpad test. Two skidpad circles are marked off with multiple cones. FSAE cars enter the course and run two laps around the right-hand skidpad. After the second lap around the right skidpad, they must quickly transition over to the left-hand skidpad and run two laps around that skidpad. The car must finally clear the Finish gate to complete the run. Penalties are handed out for hitting cones.

Endurance Testing.

Formula SAE's endurance tests are about really punishing the car with a long race. These endurances usually last more than 20 minutes long. The key is in completing the race while trying to do it conserving the least amount of fuel. It isn't a wheel-to-wheel race, though there may be multiple cars on the same course. Your job is to finish the race with the amount of fuel you start off with. Halfway through the race, you can make a pit stop and do a driver change. Use this time to inspect details on the car before completing the rest of the race. You cannot change any settings on the car or add any fuel. Knocking over cones result in two seconds of penalty time added to your Endurance time. A DNF results in a 20-second penalty. Points are rewarded for great performance in certain categories, such as fuel consumption (teams with lesser fuel consumption score better).

Formula SAE Events.

These are a variety of Formula SAE events held around the world (source - Wikipedia):

• Formula SAE (Michigan, USA)
• Formula Student (United Kingdom)
• FSAE Australasia (Australia)
• FSAE Japan
• FSAE Brazil
• Italy
• Formula Student Germany
• FSAE West (USA)
• Formula SAE at Virginia International Raceway
• Formula Student Austria
• Formula Hybrid

--- Where Do Students Go After Formula SAE? ---

Formula SAE can be great fun in making race cars and being able to test and race them. Where do most Formula SAE team members go after FSAE? You know how the NCAA has commercials saying that their athletes go pro in something other than sports? Well, a number of those who take part in Formula SAE can go on to building and engineering better products for automobiles. Many of these FSAE people can go on to major automobile makers and engineering firms to make cars better. A big part of Formula SAE is in getting more engineers to make better products for automobiles. Some enjoy making cars, while many others are seeking employment in the automotive engineering industry.

That concludes my blog entry on Formula SAE. I salute all the colleges and universities around the world who take part in this. If you enjoyed this blog entry, I want you to learn more about Formula SAE by checking out these resources. Right click to open these links in a new window or tab:

Formula SAE Official (this section also contains important rules and regulations for FSAE cars)
Formula SAE Rules and Regulations
Formula SAE team links (some links MAY not work)
• I talk about Formula SAE in this old video

Thank you for reading! I salute all of you who take part in Formula SAE (or any other collegiate competition similar to Formula SAE).

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