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Formula SAE

Senior Jacob Blagg, WWU Racing captain, prepares a bracket piece that will hold the front suspension of Viking 58 on Saturday, April 23. While the general structure and body are done, Viking 58 still needs plenty of work before it can be driven // Photo by Harrison Amelang
Senior Jacob Blagg, WWU Racing captain, prepares a bracket piece that will hold the front suspension of Viking 58 on Saturday, April 23. While the general structure and body are done, Viking 58 still needs plenty of work before it can be driven // Photo by Harrison Amelang

The smell of metal, grease and chemicals circulates the Western Racing’s garage in the basement of the engineering building. As the building process comes to a head, Western Racing prepares to compete their creation against other colleges from around the globe.

Amidst the curious aroma, massive metal shearing equipment and the occasional wrench, a group of around 20 students works hundreds of hours over the quarter building machines of speed. As the building process comes to a head, Western Racing prepares to compete their creation against other colleges from around the globe.

Western Racing works for months at a time to build two separate race cars in the garage. Viking 56 is their Baja car, an off-road type built to withstand harsh terrain. Their Formula car, Viking 58, is an open-wheeled car made to run on a designated racetrack. These cars are built from the ground up for no school credits nor pay.

Senior Matt Rhodes is a veteran member of Western Racing and in charge of manufacturing.

“We put a lot of heart and a lot of time into building these cars because we know we have to get it right the first time.”

Senior Jacob Blagg

“We design a lot of parts here in the shop because it’s cheaper for us,” Rhodes said. “We get a lot of materials donated and it’s really cost-effective.”

Most of the donations come from alumni who have graduated from the program and work in the mechanical industry. The largest monetary donations come from the The Pacific Northwest Region of the Porsche Club of America, with a smaller contribution from the Associated Students.

Senior Jacob Blagg spends between 40 and 55 hours a week in the garage.

“Even though we are a smaller team, we can produce really high quality and accurate parts,” Blagg said. “We put a lot of heart and a lot of time into building these cars because we know we have to get it right the first time.”

The process of building both cars is long and tedious. Production for the Formula car, Viking 58, started in the summer of 2014 and won’t be seeing its first competition until this year, meaning some students graduate before they see it perform.

“We start with a general construction of the car with nothing specific in the beginning,” Blagg said. “From there we decided to start with essentially a tub made of carbon-fiber Past that, we decide what kind of suspension we’re going to use and what type of powertrain we’re going to use.”

A powertrain is the piece of the car that transfers the energy from the engine to the axle.

As team captain, Blagg focuses on more detailed decisions for the cars, delegating designs for different students and their field of expertise.

While the team has a lot of freedom and opportunity to express their ingenuity, there are a lot of restrictions posted by the Society of Automotive Engineers for competitions.

“The biggest two rules are the size of the engine’s displacement and the air restrictor,” Rhodes said.

This allows each team to let their imagination and creativity thrive with unique designs with aerodynamics, suspension and other components.

Western Racing is using a small motor from a Honda sport bike, to power Viking 58. According to the SAE rules, the engine is limited to 600 cubic centimeters, with a 20 millimeter wide-air restrictor, meaning the engine can’t get all the power it would have normally. This allows for ingenuity to compensate for the lack of power.

Teams focus on weight reduction, aerodynamics and power-to-weight ratios to get the most out of the small motor.

“We’re trying to sell ourselves like a small scale company.”

Senior Kate Peltonen, business and sponsorship manager

As far as engines go, there are more restrictions when it comes to Baja cars.

“The Baja car is powered by a 15 horsepower rototiller engine,” Rhodes said. “So it’s basically a lawnmower engine.”

Once the cars have been thoroughly tested, it’s time for the competitions themselves. Competitions have two components, a static test and the actual driving of the machines.

Senior Kate Peltonen is the business and sponsorship manager.

WWU Racing cleans and prepares a transmission piece before drive test day on Saturday, April 23 // Photo by Harrison Amelang
WWU Racing cleans and prepares a transmission piece before drive test day on Saturday, April 23 // Photo by Harrison Amelang

“The static events include design, brakes and sound,” Peltonen said. “But, throughout those competitions, we also have to do a design report and a sales presentation. We’re trying to sell ourselves like a small scale company.”

Once points have been awarded for overall quality and sales presentations are completed, it’s ready to be driven. These events vary between the Formula and Baja races, but each test has the same goal.

“Both cars have to go through an acceleration event, which is like a drag race but not against another vehicle,” Blagg said. “Then each car competes in a maneuverability event, which tests the agility and handling of the car as well as the skill of the driver.”

From there, the competitions branch off. Formula has a skidpad event that measures G-force, the physical force correlated with changes in velocity. Baja tests the range and strength of suspension, along with the car’s maneuverability with the hillclimb race and rockcrawl event.

The final race is an endurance challenge. Formula cars must race around the track for an hour straight, testing the skill of the driver, strength and durability of the car.

“The Baja endurance race is 4 hours long and is wheel to wheel, so every car brought to the competition is running on the track at the same time,” said Blagg. “So it can be a crazy 100 car event.”

For the 2016 season, the Baja competition will be held from May 19-22 in Gorman, California. Formula competitions will be held from June 15-18 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  

The team plans to have Viking 58, and a remastered Baja racer, Viking 56, ready for competition at the end of the quarter.

“The Formula car is almost a roller, meaning that it has all of the components it needs to roll, but doesn’t have an engine, electronics or controls,” said Peltonen. “We’re trying to have it ready by the end of the week so we can get tuning the engine.”

Viking 56 is using the same skeletal structure previous Baja cars have used, so the team was able to easily add on new components without needing to rebuild completely. This has helped the team test drive Viking 56 for a couple of weeks.

Spending so much time building a racing machine with no monetary or credit compensation can seem unnecessary at times. However, the team not only builds for their own experience, but for each other.

Freshman Weston Renda has been a regular in the garage since the beginning of the school year.

“A lot of the guys are really into cars and car culture in general, but I think a big reason we keep coming back is because we enjoy each other’s company,” Renda said. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie you get when you solve problems together constantly and help each other out.”

As competitions edge closer, more and more time is spent in the garage and the demands on each team member increases. However, despite being underfinanced and competing against larger schools, Western Racing continues to speed forward.

 

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 4:25 p.m., April 28, 2016. 

 

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