Great Finish for FSAE Race Car Team

June 1, 2005

Duke's Formula SAE Race Car team placed 31st in a field of 140 teams at the May 18-22 competition in Detroit, MI. This is the strongest finish in school history, enabling Duke to beat out Brown, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Clemson, Case Western, Purdue, the Naval Academy and Georgia Tech.

"Our success this year wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous contributions of last year's seniors: Nick Sandler, Andy Hogg, Steve Hogg, Raul Rodriguez, Jason Laderman and Brock Pearson," said team president Julien Finlay, a rising senior in mechanical engineering. "These guys worked their hearts out to help us build a good car."

To build a Formula SAE car, the team had to digest a 200-page rule book and then design a car from scratch. Duke's team, sponsored by grants from Ford, General Motors, Duke University Stores, Engineering Alumni Council and the Machine Consulting Services company in Raleigh, NC, scavenged many of their parts from junkyards and purchased a motorcycle engine. Formula cars range in weight from 380 to 700 pounds (normal street cars range from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds). According to Finlay, the power to weight ratio of the Duke car is comparable to a Ferrari or Porsche.

"We've never had such a great car like this one--and we won't be taking it apart," said Finlay. The team plans to use it for driver training next year and as a test bed for new technology.

The team spent the final two months before the competition driving and testing the car from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. in the Chem and Circuit parking lots. "That's the only time the lots are empty enough for us to work," said Finlay.

On arrival in Detroit, the first step to competing was passing an intensive technical inspection. "In the previous two years, our cars have not passed the technical inspection, so we were nervous," said Finlay. "Unfortunately, we didn't pass the noise test. We needed to be below 110 decibels and we were reading at 118 decibels during the test."

This put the team into crisis mode. If they didn't pass first thing in the morning, they would not have enough time to complete all of the events. "We stayed up all night and built four new mufflers. Our plan was to try one after another until we passed," Finlay said. Luckily, the first muffler they tried passed the test.

"One of last year's team members, Andy Hogg, stayed up all night with us getting his hands dirty trying to help us pass inspection," said Finlay. Hogg, who now works for GM, is a 2004 graduate of Pratt's Master of Engineering Management program. Another alumn, Raul Rodriguez, who also works for GM, spent a lot of time with the team.

Duke's team then went on to compete in all seven events, including design evaluation, cost reporting, marketing presentation, acceleration, skidpad, autocross and endurance tests.

In the design event, Mike Klug ('05 ME), Jeff McCormick (rising senior ME/economics) and Jesse Silverman (rising junior, biology) represented the team to a panel of professional engineers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. The judges grilled the team about their design rationale. In the Cost Reporting event, the team defended a detailed 300-page cost accounting that detailed all parts down to every bolt on the car. The report had to be mailed in by April 1st. Ryan Habbley (rising senior ME) and Danny Lacher ('05 ME/BME) represented the team to an industry panel and answered questions at the competition. Habbley, Finlay and Chris Morecraft (rising senior ME/history) represented the team in a marketing presentation.

Highlights include a 25th place finish in the skidpad event by Nick Goddard ('05 ME/BME), considered to be one of the team's best technical drivers. In skidpad, teams negotiate a tight figure eight track as quickly as possible. Jeff McCormick also competed well in the skidpad event.

The autocross event, in which drivers try for top speeds, provided some unexpected excitement. Goddard placed extremely well despite a sputtering engine that alerted the team to a detail forgotten in the excitement of the day: "check to make sure the car has enough gas."

McCormick and Will Cooper (rising junior) did a tremendous job in the endurance event in which cars are required to run 11 laps, stop for a driver switch, and then run 11 more laps. There are multiple cars on the track at the same time and drivers have to pay attention to a complicated system of flag signals. Most importantly, teams are not allowed to fix, tighten or repair anything on the car after the competition starts. Many cars fail to restart after the driver change and two teams actually lost tires during the event.

"The endurance event is critical for placing well, because many cars just can't finish the event," said Finlay. A panel of judges pores over each car at the driver change looking for loose screws, dripping oil, etc., and disqualifies all cars not in tip top condition.

"Murphy's law just rules during the endurance event. We were so nervous, we must have tested our car 50 times getting ready for this event," said Finlay. "Because we did so well in the endurance event, we were able to beat four of the top 10 teams from last year," said Finlay.

Jesse Silverman and Kristin Hill (rising senior MR/psychology) represented the team in the acceleration event.

Finlay said the team chose their drivers after competing in a local autocross event in Greenville, NC on April 23rd. Duke posted 4 of the top 5 times and won its class.

"We want to especially thank John Goodfellow from the ME department, and our advisers Rhett George and Rob Clark," said Finlay.