Formula racers earn top finishes
By Zack Doherty
Published on Friday, May 4, 2012
After four days of racing and testing, the Dartmouth Formula Racing Team walked away with several top finishes at the 2012 Formula Hybrid Competition at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
The Dartmouth team, consisting of 15 students, competed in the hybrid competitions. Dartmouth placed first in marketing, fifth in acceleration, sixth in design, seventh in autocross and fifth overall, a strong finish compared to previous years’ results, team captain Graham Keggi ’12 said.
“We’re really excited about how we did,” Keggi said. “Our overall place is similar to previous years, but this year’s competition had a lot more cars actually running. I think the reason we were so successful was that we had one of the best groups of people working on the car.”
The entire competition is open to undergraduate and graduate engineering students and features both electric and electric-hybrid race cars, according to Thayer School of Engineering professor John Collier, an advisor for the team. Electric cars run on a battery or capacitor, while electric-hybrid cars also run on combustible fuel.
The competition is open to universities nationally and internationally. Overall, 39 teams registered for the competition, and countries including Brazil, Canada, Spain and Taiwan were represented.
The first two days of competition involved various inspections, as well as two presentations in front of a panel of judges, made up of officials from Ford and General Motors, Collier said. The first presentation was a design event in which students showcased their cars and elaborated on the specific features of their design model. The second was a marketing presentation in which students tried to sell their model and persuade the judges of their model’s economic value.
“It’s a high-anxiety situation,” Collier said. “During the presentations, the judges really put you on the spotlight and grill you. You’re expected to know all the details about your car and have an elaborate campaign.”
The latter two days of competition included an acceleration run, an autocross — a form of time trial — and an endurance contest. Scores in each category added to a team’s point total, and a team’s place was determined by their overall score. This year, the Dartmouth team competed in the endurance contest for the first time.
“What was exciting was that this year was the first time in six years we finished every event,” Collier said. “The endurance race is tough — it measures how long it takes to do 22 or 36 laps, but you also need to keep in mind how much fuel they give you. What you’d like to do is finish just as you run out of fuel.”
The racing team faced some early mechanical failures and electrical problems later in the competition, according to Collier. The regenerative breaking system did not consistently perform as desired, and after a support piece for the rear suspension cracked during a practice run, students had to create a new piece from scratch and attach it to the car before their event, Collier said.
“They had to perform under great duress, which is really educational,” Collier said. “That’s what’s fun about the competition. You get failures that you don’t predict and have to fix them. It’s like the world giving you the ultimate final exam. And the team did great.”
The project development and construction of the car are part of a two-course program at Thayer. Students who are enrolled in “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation” in the fall begin by assessing the previous year’s model, identifying what improvements can be made and organizing various tests and plans for the new model, Thayer design fellow Christian Ortiz ’11 said.
In the winter, students enrolled in “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Completion,” the continuation of the fall course, carry on this initiative, and it is during this time that most of the building takes place, according to Ortiz.
This year, students faced multiple issues in the construction of the car.
“A huge problem this year was the engine,” Ortiz said. “We had to order a new one, but the one we got had its own sort of problems with overheating, so we had to nurse it back to shape.”
This year marks the sixth year of the competition, which was founded in 2007 by Thayer. Doug Fraser, director of the Formula Hybrid competition, said the race was created as an offshoot of the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competition, which is open only to cars powered by a single engine designed for a motorcycle.
Due to a petition to rescore the event, Dartmouth’s positioning in the endurance competition was not available by press time.