The rear engine assembly of the formula SAE car, with team members in the background.

Formula SAE: Weight Down, Power Up

By:  CAM Gerlach

The Virginia Tech Motorsports Formula SAE team, based out of the university’s Ware Lab, isn’t content to rest on their past laurels, as impressive as they may be. Last year, the team scored a high finish in the Formula SAE competition held at the Michigan International Speedway, beating out close to 130 other vehicles from colleges and universities around the globe to earn the 6th place spot. Critical to a successful high-performance racecar in the style of Formula vehicles seen in professional racing is light weight, allowing the car to accelerate faster and maneuver quicker. To achieve this, the VT-FSAE engineers built a half-monocoque shell for their machine compovsed of carbon fiber, supporting the vehicle with a light but strong outer skin. However, their plans are even more ambitious this year, as the team plants to tweak the car to reduce weight even further.

Formula SAE
Sebastian Calderon, responsible for the vehicle’s fuel, oil, and cooling systems, calls for a tool as he examines its underside.

Beyond a further refinement of their already successful design, Formula SAE looks to take a huge leap into the future by changing up perhaps the most critical component of their racecar: the engine. As general engineering student and FSAE team member Micheal Salazar describes, “We’re trying to get an electric power train (EPT) care rolling, which is purely battery operated as opposed to the internal combustion car we’ve been running for the past 20 years.” Calling EPT “the way of the future,” Salazar said that the members of the group working on that potential technology for a new car will replace the traditional gasoline engine and fuel powering the vehicle with electric motors and high voltage batteries, which will certainly bring new challenges and significant opportunities to eke every bit of performance out of their prototype EPT car.

As for the prospects for the team this year, Salazar was cautious but confident. “We’re hoping to match the result from last year and hopefully do better, though we’ll be facing fierce competition, particularly from the German [teams]. Hopefully, we’ll come out on top.”

For more on the team’s progress toward that goal, stay tuned to future issues of Engineers’ Forum for all the latest updates on Tech’s Ware Lab.