Students at the University of Kansas earned their best ever finish at the 2006 Society of Automotive Engineers Formula Car Challenge.
The Jayhawk Motorsports team earned a remarkable fourth place at the international competition that took place May 17-21 at the Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich. The result represents the first time the KU team has broken into the top 10, however it has finished in the top 25 in six of the past eight years.
"The car performed as designed — which was expertly! It was wicked fast and competed with the best. Any minor setbacks were easily overcome to place fourth, our best finish ever," said Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Robb Sorem, who also is associate dean for undergraduate studies in the KU School of Engineering. "For the previous five years, only KU and one other team have finished all events. I can proudly say, after this year, that only KU has completed all events for the past six years. It is a tribute to our students' commitment and ability to engineer a high-performance vehicle."
The Formula SAE competition required the 140 registered student teams to design, build and drive a small formula-style racecar. At the competition, the teams and their cars were evaluated in a series of nine static and dynamic events including high performance track endurance, acceleration, presentation, design, cost, and technical inspection. Student teams also were required to adhere to extensive safety regulations, submit thorough design information and make several technical presentations.
This year the 18-member team vowed to finish in the top five by making a few significant design changes to the car. They redesigned the suspension to allow a wide range of adjustability. Other changes included implementing a pull rod suspension system in both the front and rear and creating a padded seatback that would accommodate drivers of all sizes.
In addition to their fourth place finish overall, the team won the third place Hoosier Racing Tire Autocross Award which was given to the three teams with the fastest recorded autocross runs. The autocross event contributed to the KU team's overall high ranking. The team also received the Formula SAE Spirit of Excellence Award, which was given to the top 10 overall teams and earned Jayhawk Motorsports a $600 prize.
The 475-pound Jayhawk Motorsports car can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds flat, and has already reached speeds of 110 mph. The car holds a 4-cylinder 600cc Honda CBR F4i engine without internal modifications to ensure reliability. The carbon fiber body sits atop 20-inch tires on 13-inch rims. The project cost more than $35,000 to complete and benefited from a substantial in-kind donation for the carbon fiber body.
Seniors in mechanical engineering have the option of taking part in the project as part of the capstone design series of courses in their major. Underclassmen in mechanical engineering often volunteer to be a part of the team and are then better prepared for the class and the competition when they reach the senior level.
Logan Johnson, mechanical engineering graduating senior who served as the volunteer leader last year, gained enough experience to become the team captain this year.
"There is a huge time commitment and an unbelievable amount of work to do when you design and build an advanced racing vehicle in well under a year's time," Johnson said. "Many people consider this to be a 9-5 job; others consider it to take more time than that."
The team is now headed to the inaugural Formula SAE West competition, June 14 to 17 at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. More than 70 student teams have registered for the event, which gives Jayhawk Motorsports yet another opportunity to compete against teams from five different continents.
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Story by Anna Tabakh, public information assistant