Western’s racing group back on track
The Viking 59 cost about $30,000 to build and operate per year. // Photo courtesy of WWU Racing
By Grace Taylor
Michael Konig zipped through the turns of the course with his formula race car, relying on the strength of the three good engine cylinders he had left. This time, he navigated past the pool of water on the track that caused him to spin out on lap one.
For three days in June, the Western racing team, led by Konig as project manager and team captain, paved their way to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineering West racing event.
The team of around 45 students designed, manufactured and built a formula SAE racing car in less than a year, and then traveled to Lincoln with their creations to participate in a series of competitions.
One premier event was the endurance race, which featured two stints, approximately 15 minutes each, with a driver change between them, senior powertrain lead Logan Slack said in a video posted on the team’s Facebook page on June 23.
“A lot goes into the preparation for this race,” Slack said. “Everything has to be fully dialed in. If these cars fail in any way, they’ll take you off the track. Last year, only 50 percent of the cars finished this race, and that was a really high finish rate.”
This year’s car, nicknamed Viking 59, was designed in September and took roughly 10 months to test and perfect before the competition. It can achieve top speeds of almost 100 miles per hour, Konig said in an email.
“We really focused on building the team, building the structure, spreading out within the engineering department and making sure the whole school was aware of what we did,” Konig said. “We changed the model of the team to run like a business.”
The team used to build two vehicles for two different competitions, taking three years to finish them. This year, they focused their energy on one vehicle and successfully finished building a car that could stand up to the rigors of competition for the first time since 2013.
“It’s been a long time coming for us,” Slack said. Slack has been a team member since 2014. “Some of the more senior members definitely shed some tears. I know I did.”
Four years ago, the team had only eight people and wasn’t well organized, Slack said. Now, membership has swelled to more than 40 people. This competition marked the first time each team member successfully designed, manufactured and built a formula race car from scratch.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” Slack said. “This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. We came together and said ‘OK, we’re going to build this car and it’s going to be one of the most reliable cars this team has ever seen.’ And that’s what we did.”
The increased membership offers the team’s directors more time to manage the design and build process, the team’s business director Sara Hoiness said. Tasks are more quickly executed among the team members, more experience is brought to the table and there are more hands on deck. Still, the team consistently puts in 80-hour work weeks.
“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun,” Hoiness said. “It’s been a lot of tears and sweat and now we’re here.”
Slack emphasized the benefits that commitment had on the team’s confidence and performance. They logged about 200 miles and 20 hours of test time on the car since April 2018.
“What makes us successful is that we can’t focus on building the best car, that’s not what this competition is about,” Slack said. “It’s about building the best team.”
The team brought their car to the track in Lincoln, ready to succeed, brimming with confidence.
Slight trouble arose as the vehicle malfunctioned during the autocross event with only three of the four engine cylinders running. Konig and fellow driver Curtis Maile, the team’s technical director, still completed the autocross and endurance events and snagged an overall finish of 10th place out of 80.
In the business presentation event, the team’s design placed seventh, their best result of the competition.
The judges tested the team on the design and integrity of the car, as well as their understanding and ability to improvise in real time.
Konig credited the tireless dedication of each team member. He said the team is ecstatic to see their hard work pay off, building confidence for the years and miles ahead.
“We met every single goal for the year and walked away from the competition with a trophy in hand,” Konig said. “This competition couldn’t have gone better for us.”