LAWRENCE — When Kim Hoedel was a young girl living overseas, one of her favorite things to do was watch Formula One car racing.
“My dad is in the automotive industry,” Hoedel said. “We used to live in Germany when I was five. He worked for Mercedes, so cars and car magazines — and especially Formula One — has always kind of been around my house. And so I've always watched F1 with my dad.”
Now Hoedel, a senior in mechanical engineering from Kansas City, Kansas, is getting a chance to put her childhood fandom to use: She’s the team lead for the KU’s Jayhawk Motorsports club as it designs and builds its own Formula One racecar to field in competition against other vehicles built at universities around the world.
Jayhawk Motorsports will unveil its two cars for this year’s competitions at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St. The team is in the final stages of prepping for the Formula SAE Michigan competition, May 10-13 in Brooklyn, Michigan. They will also race in Formula SAE Lincoln, in Lincoln, Nebraska, from June 21-24.
Robb Sorem, a mechanical engineering professor and team adviser, said Hoedel was selected to lead after being active on the team for several years.
“She’s never shied away from getting involved,” he said. “She came in her sophomore year — the first time I met her she was in the lab, working on creating parts, sanding, getting things ready to produce, really getting her hands dirty.”
The Jayhawk Motorsports club offers KU engineering students a chance to apply the skills they’ve learned in class — the team designs a car, machines its own parts, solicits funding and ultimately builds its own vehicle. Senior mechanical engineering students serve as team leaders for their capstone project. Fifteen to 20 underclassman volunteers work with the seniors in the assembly and drafting of the cars. Sorem serves as the team adviser, but the project is primarily student run and driven.
Unlike F1 races, though, cars aren’t judged by their performance in head-to-head races — instead, teams are awarded in categories ranging from the car’s cost and the team’s presentation of its design to more technical areas like fuel efficiency and acceleration.
“It covers all aspects,” Hoedel said. “And also it just requires you to have the best car possible.”
Team leaders like Hoedel — and five of the last seven Jayhawk Motorsports leads have been women — need to master a wide range of skills as they manage the team to competition. The leads, Sorem said, must keep “the big picture in mind rather than get sidetracked in the details.”
Hoedel adds: “If your team doesn't work well together — if you don't strategize right, if you're fighting, if you can't think on your feet — you just can get destroyed” in competition.
That hasn’t been a problem for KU. Jayhawk Motorsports took first place overall at competitions in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2012 and 2014.
After graduation, Hoedel said she wants to work in Formula One racing — but probably at the administrative level instead of engineering.
“I like to see how cool and creative it actually can be” to create a car from scratch, she said. “I think our cars are beautiful.”
Photos: At top, Kim Hoedel, senior in mechanical engineering. At right, Jayhawk Motorsports students are shown with former car designs in this 2016 image.