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KU team rallies at Formula SAE competition

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Jayhawk Motorsports team from the University of Kansas placed in the top 10 in three categories at the Formula SAE Michigan 2010 competition held last month in Detroit.

Teams from universities around the world spend the academic year designing, building, testing and racing their Formula cars. In mid-May each year, they converge on the Motor City for the three-day competition that showcases design, presentation and racing skills.

The Jayhawks tied for fourth in design, placed fifth in presentation and finished 10th in endurance. The team placed 19th overall at the competition.

Engine problems forced the KU team to miss two events, costing valuable points that could have earned the team a much higher ranking.

“We figured out late on Friday (the second day of the competition) that we blew a head gasket in our engine,” said Matt Petty, team captain and a 2010 mechanical engineering graduate from Chanhassan, Minn. “It was pretty heartbreaking realizing we were going to miss an event (the autocross competition) that we usually shine in.”

But, Petty said, the team is extremely pleased with its showing in the endurance category, which is regarded as the best overall test of complete vehicle performance.

The endurance competition challenges teams to race the clock in a 20-kilometer, 22-lap race around a single-lane track lined with orange cones. Teams are required to change drivers at the 11-lap mark. Scores are based on overall time, with penalties assessed if a vehicle strikes any cones or goes off the course.

To see the car run in an endurance competition, click here to watch the youtube video.

“Only 40 out of the 102 teams were able to complete the competition.” Petty said. “So to be one of the top 10 finishers in that event says a lot about our car, especially in the conditions we were running.”

Petty said the disappointing engine problems forced to the team to unite and regain momentum for a strong finish.

“It was neat to see everyone as a team come together and get the car repaired, so given the overall conditions, we’re still pretty happy,” Petty said.

The team will learn from what went wrong in Detroit and work every day to improve.

“It’s weird to think that you’d get 19th place and say you’re disappointed,” Petty said. “Most schools would be very happy with that. We’re really motivated now and we really want to push it until the next competition.”

The team’s final competition for the year — the swan song for the 20 seniors on the team — will be at the next major Formula SAE event, set for June 16 to 19 in Fontana, Calif.

“We’re now focusing on the reliability of our vehicle,” Petty said. “We want a car that every time we’re ready to go race it hard, it’s ready to go race. We’re looking at increasing our radiator size and dealing with some cooling issues, especially since it’s going to be a lot hotter for the California competition.”

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