Formula Racing team stays on track

Special to Western News

Western Formula Racing placed first among Canadian universities, and 10th overall, at Formula SAE Michigan last month. The team’s next stop will be Formula Student Germany held in Hockenheimring in July.

Formula racing is not just a race against time. It is a race against oneself.

“There’s a saying in racing, ‘Your car is never ready to compete; it only becomes time to race,’” said Matthew Crossan, external team leader for Western Formula Racing. “If your car is finished a day early and you think that’s great, you finished on time and you got an extra day, you’ve wasted that day.

“If our team had more time, we’d keep designing, keep building and keep making the car better.”

In mid-May, Western Formula Racing team placed first among Canadian universities, and 10th overall, at Formula SAE (FSAE) Michigan. The event included schools from across North America and around the world. With this result, Western enters the 2015 season as the top Canadian team and sixth best in North America.

FSAE is an international student design competition organized by SAE International (previously known as Society of Automotive Engineers). The scenario behind FSAE is this: A fictional manufacturing company has contracted a student design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. The prototype is then put on the race course to be evaluated for its potential as a production item.

The design, however, must follow a ‘formula.’

In formula racing, the ‘formula’ refers to a set of rules with which all participants’ cars must comply. The rules apply to a series of competitions in a particular season. FSAE has its own rulebook followed by more than 500 university teams around the world.

Western Formula Racing started in 1988, with just a handful of Engineering students. Today, the team consists of more than 50 members from across Western. Other than Engineering students, the team also welcomes all sorts of talent – Business students manage funds, operations, marketing and sponsorship relations; Psychology students keep the drivers’ performance and health in check.

Since 1996, the team builds a brand new car every year to compete. This year, Western’s race car is 3-metre long, 1.3-metre wide and 1.2-metre tall. It weighs 500 pounds and is driven by 80 horsepower. With this power-to-weight ratio, 100km/h arrives in just 3.5 seconds. A special feature would be the carbon-fibre composite monocoque chassis. The light but sturdy material not only makes the car much lighter, it also provides great protection to the driver. It is also used to build Formula 1 racecars.

“This is not the fastest car we’ve built, but this is probably our best under the formula,” Crossan said.

There are more than 1,000 parts on this compact machine, and they are all molded, welded or 3D-printed by the students. But this is only half of the challenge, Crossan said.

“There’s the engineering challenge, but then there’s also the ‘people challenge,’” he explained. “The team is student-guided and student-funded. To manage 50 students, get $100,000 for building the prototype and keep the sponsors happy, it is really challenging.”

Western Formula Racing thrives on three principles – excellence, endurance and enthusiasm. In particular, endurance – ensuring the long-term success of the team – is crucial to this year’s achievement.

“Every year, about 10 of the most knowledgeable members leave the team. They take a lot of knowledge with them. If they don’t share the knowledge with the next year’s group of newcomers, even though they design an awesome car this year, it doesn’t mean the next team will be to do the same because no one would know how. One of the most important things on this team is knowledge transfer,” Crossan said.

That is what keeps the car, as well as the team, better every year, he continued.

Western Formula Racing’s next stop will be Formula Student Germany (FSG) held in Hockenheimring in July. FSG is the premier competition for student Formula racing where the best teams from around the world will gather to compete.

Earlier in May, WFR had a crowdfund campaign on Giving To Western that raised about $8,600. The fund is for finishing touches on the 2015 race car, as well as future mid-season improvements.

“By going (to FSG), we’re testing ourselves against the best teams from around the world,” Crossan said. “It elevates us. So, if we’re competing against the better teams, we have to ensure our car is better as well to keep up with them. It makes us work harder because we know the competition is going to be much more difficult.

“The car is never ready because we could have spent that extra day designing something to be lighter, better or more powerful. But it is time to race.”