WU Racing looks to build name with Tisch unveiling

| Senior News Editor

Courtesy of Brian Aggrey

The Washington University Racing Team practices in the parking lot prior to their first track run of the May 2012 competition. The team will unveil their car Thursday.

WU Racing members are holding their first major unveiling of a car they say is their best yet, just two weeks before they take it to Detroit for an international college racing competition.

Group members said they have spent thousands of hours and about $46,000 on the as-yet untested car that they will consider a success if it makes it through the May competition’s endurance test, which involves going 22 miles around a track with one driver switch in the middle.

They hope the 5:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon unveiling in Tisch Commons will increase the group’s status on campus and provide them with an opportunity to thank their corporate sponsors, which include Boeing and Monster Energy drinks.

“We get a lot of our funding from SU [Student Union], but we also get a lot of our funding from outside companies that either give us monetary donations, or a lot of times they just give us parts or services,” senior Tyler Willibrand, vice president of corporate and sponsor relations, said. “One of our goals this year is to get more public recognition but also more recognition on campus.”

From 1:30-3:30 p.m., Monster will be handing out free energy drinks outside the Danforth University Center to promote the unveiling, where teammates will present the car at an event open to students and faculty, with food and refreshments provided.

Willibrand said the group hopes the unveiling in a very public place on campus—as compared to last year’s low-key unveiling by the School of Engineering—will help them become a known campus competition group, improving recruitment efforts and sponsorship opportunities.

“It takes a lot of people on the team to do this in a year, to build a whole race car,” Willibrand said. “Also we just kind of want to become sort of a higher status symbol on campus—one, just because it’s nice to be that and then also reasons of funding. We think if we can build our name that it’ll be a lot easier to get sponsors that maybe will have heard about us.”

The team of about 20 students spends about 40-60 hours per week on a project that is not only unpaid, but sometimes involves members buying smaller parts out of pocket. They spend most of the fall semester designing the car and begin manufacturing the car toward the end of the year through the following semester.

While the car is made as simple as possible to meet the entry requirements, one of the car’s most unique features is a wood grain dashboard; most racecar dashboards are made of thin metal.

“The heavier weeks are more like 80-100 hours in a week, and then sometimes they take the car away from us to go do work in other places, we don’t get to do any work on it,” senior Matt Monson, chief engineer, said.

Last year was the first year the team ever made a car in one year; a steering issue kept them from making it through the endurance test. This year, their car is not only better-constructed but also 100 pounds lighter.

Members estimate that their 470-pound car will probably get about 80 horsepower and while car speed will help determine who wins the competition, their car will likely average about 30 mph and never top 70 mph. If they are able to make it through the endurance competition, they will be one of the top few dozen teams.

“The ultimate goal is to have the lightest and fastest car, but that’s pretty unrealistic for most of the cars that compete,” senior Steven Schleibaum, co-team lead for suspension, said. “In order to have a car that will have the fastest times, you’ll have to sink a lot of money into it.”

They construct the car in Jolley Hall in the School of Engineering, where lab technician Patrick Harkins helps them troubleshoot some of their more difficult manufacturing problems. While WU Racing has never had a major safety issue and members say the safety requirements are rigorous, the Pennsylvania State University’s student team had their car burst into flames at last year’s competition.

“A lot of the manufacturing goes beyond our capabilities,” Schleibaum added. “So our goal this year is to finish endurance, which will put us in the top 30 teams, which is a huge goal for this being the second car that we’ve made in a year.”

The Formula SAE (FSAE), formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers, competition begins on May 9. They will be competing against 119 other teams in static events, such as design judging and a business presentation, and dynamic events—straight-line acceleration and endurance tests, among others.

Some of the international teams they will be competing against, they said, are students at the equivalent of graduate schools, whose teams have around 100 members.

“A lot of Germany’s best teams will come over and compete here as well after they compete in Germany, and one of the teams that got second place last year, they’re actually building a custom engine with AMG in Germany this year—just for their car. It’s pretty ridiculous that some of the teams we go up against have resources like that,” Monson said.

Junior Brian Chang, vice president of manufacturing, said the team’s main purpose is to train its members, most of whom come in with no experience.

“I would say that the main goal of any team outside of the top 10 that don’t really have unlimited resources and unlimited time and just unlimited money is to really develop the engineers on the team,” Chang said. “When I go to interviews, this is what I talk about. This is the highlight of my resume. This is where I learned all of my engineering skills.”

Senior Brian Aggrey, vice president of development for WU Racing, said the Thursday unveiling is a celebration of all the work current and former group members have done on the project.

“This event and this year is the culmination of not just a single year of work but no less than four years of development,” Aggrey said. “This car was really a long time coming, and we’ve had a lot of people come through this team that haven’t been able to see their results in a competitive package like the one we’ve been able to produce.”

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