By Alan Gruner
Congratulations! If you are reading this it means that you
have committed to being involved in some way with the Formula SAE competition.
This manual is primarily for students though it will be valuable to other team
stakeholders as well. It is recommended that you read through the whole
document. All of the topics covered are here for a reason. Most everything here
has been learned the hard way.
This manual is being written to help Formula SAE teams
organize and successfully complete their car projects. It was originally
written to help my old Formula team document the problems that were encountered
and solutions that we devised for them. A great deal of knowledge was
graduating with team members every year. Knowledge about how to get things done
at a university, what are reasonable goals for a team, and where to find
resources had to be learned from scratch by incoming officers and team members.
This second edition is designed to help new teams successfully launch a new
FSAETM program or improve an existing
one. It is my hope that FSAETM teams
will expand and refine these ideas as they learn more. My aim is to provide
guidance in the process issues of organizing people, money and other resources
for the purpose of competing in Formula SAE. There are a lot of good books on
the technical aspects of vehicle design. I am not going to duplicate the
This document is divided into roughly two sections. The
first section deals with how to run the organization and includes topics like
fund raising and recruiting. The second section deals with some design lessons
learned the hard way, design and construction hints, and preparation for the
competition. Reading both sections is recommended as many issues and problems
that come up in the project are intertwined.
The information and opinions presented are gleaned from
organization management texts and my own experience working on three FSAE cars
and managing the construction of one of them during my tenure at Michigan State
University. It also comes from stories shared with me by many different teams.
Much of this is a subjective interpretation of my experience in the management
end of a Formula project. I am human and fully capable of missing something. I
expect people will disagree with some of the ideas presented. The opinions
expressed are my own and do not reflect those of any organization I am now or
have been affiliated with.
Part I: Organizational Topics
Where to Begin
The natural inclination of any FSAETM group is to begin by focusing on what car to
build. While it is important to be thinking about design issues and ideas, in
the early meetings you will probably not be able to create a definitive plan.
Unless you have designed and built complete automobiles before, you should not
make definitive decisions yet. There will be plenty of dialog and thought given
to the car design without making it a priority yet.
Students usually think the biggest problems will be
technical. We embark on an FSAE project with grand visions of a fast, exciting
racecar and can't wait to get started designing and building it. What you find
out right away, particularly if you are in a leadership position, is that the
largest problems to overcome have less to do with actual hands-on design,
construction, and driving of a racecar. The three largest problems you will
have are membership, money and university bureaucracy. How well you deal with
them will ultimately determine how well you can design and build your car.
Engineers generally do not like to spend lots of energy on these types of
activities; however, this three-headed dragon is going to face you in every job
you ever have. To be an effective engineer, manager, marketer or whatever it is
you plan on doing, you will have to deal effectively with these things. One of
the reasons companies recruit heavily out of the Formula SAE is the experience
that students get managing these problems.
The most important concerted action for an FSAE team to
start with is finding SPONSORSHIP! The best idea and design will remain just
that unless there is money to pay for them. The point of the FSAE competition
is to build an actual functioning vehicle. Money and material donations are
what make it happen. Ideas and strategies for securing cash, material, and
service donations are discussed in detail in the sponsorship section.
The second activity that needs to be undertaken is
developing and implementing a recruiting and selection plan. By the time an
FSAE car is built, tested, prepared, polished, documented, presented and raced,
several person years worth of volunteer student labor have been spent to make
it happen. All the work that needs to be done will not happen without people to
The last thing that is crucial to begin from the very
first meeting is the learning process. To build a competitive car means that
you will have to develop a working knowledge of subjects like vehicle dynamics,
heat transfer, material science, mechanics and fluids in excess of what is
required to pass your classes. Furthermore, many of you will develop managerial
skills that exceed what's taught in many MBA programs. You will have to be
reading and consulting with experts continually to get where you need to be.
Running an FSAE project is expensive. To build a brand new
car from scratch can take $60,000 in cash, materials and services easily. This
kind of support won't come from membership dues and selling T-shirts. A
sponsorship campaign needs to start as early as possible, preferably near the
beginning of the calendar year before the year you intend to compete.
What often happens is that one or two people get stuck
with the task of approaching sponsors at the beginning of the academic year.
This works, but is not the most effective. People can quickly get bogged down.
Important opportunities slip away because there is not enough time for one or
two persons to pursue them and pass classes.
A system for organizing and dividing the workload among a
larger group is important. Spreading the sponsorship work gives people an
appreciation of how much work is involved raising the money. Until you do it,
you do not understand how much work is involved. It is common that
contributions of the people involved in fund raising and sponsor relations are
under-appreciated by the team.
Let me start by defining what I mean by sponsorship.
Sponsorship is donations of cash, materials, parts, services and technical
expertise to your FSAE team. To run a successful sponsorship campaign, you will
have to become salespeople for the team. Some of you may not be excited about
the prospect of being a salesperson; however we all constantly try to persuade
people to support our ideas or join in what we are doing. This is no different.
You are trying to get people excited about the project you are working on. It
is fun once you've done it for awhile.
Sponsors are looking for something in return for their
donations. Treat them as valued customers in a business. Deliver what they are
looking for and they will keep coming back to sponsor the team in the future.
It will also put each of you on the team in a position to obtain things that
will really matter to you later, like great jobs, high salaries, and
Sponsorship takes various forms. The easiest type of
sponsorship to get is material and parts donations. For many parts and material
makers, sponsoring student projects is a good deal. A number of the FSAE students
will be making supplier decisions for their employers after graduating.
Sponsors get to create a positive image of their company in your mind and
familiarize you with their product line. For companies with new products to
promote, FSAE provides a forum to get their stuff on display in front of
students and auto industry people as well. The FSAE event is sponsored and
organized by a consortium of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The competition is crawling
with designers, engineers, researchers, purchasing managers and executives of
these three and their first tier suppliers. Companies also like to help out
because students have a reputation for using things in new and inventive ways.
(They often don't work, but that isn't the point.) This can help stimulate interest
in new uses for existing products. Often this kind of donation is relatively
painless for sponsors. When I started working on my first Formula car in 1994,
it was made from pre-impregnated carbon-fiber cloth. I was told it was about to
be scrapped because it did not pass the inspections to be certified for
military aircraft use. Instead of scrapping it, the sponsor gave it to the
Michigan State University Formula team to build a racecar. It was more than
adequate for the job and the sponsor got a rolling billboard for the product.
In another example along the same lines, I'm told there is a Formula team in
the northwestern United States that builds its cars with large amounts of
machined aluminum because Boeing lets the students to go through their scrap
A harder type of sponsorship to procure is services like
machining, welding, or painting. Most companies and professionals are busy. The
time they spend with you is time that they are not getting paid for. However
this doesn't mean people won't help. This project is pretty cool. Often that is
enough to get people involved. Their motivations are similar to those of part
suppliers. Helping you out creates a positive image of the company among
ambitious aspiring engineers and managers, it familiarizes you with their
services and capabilities, and the car gives a chance for their handiwork to be
displayed in front of potential customers.
Before approaching anyone about advice or services,
remember his or her time is worth money. You must do your homework ahead of
time so you don't waste time or materials. Be clear exactly what you are
looking for. Typically technical help is given and services are performed
during downtime from paid projects. You have to be ready to accommodate odd
schedules and delays.
The hardest type of sponsorship to get is cash donations.
Treat your cash donors like gods. Unlike parts and materials (which can be
donated out of existing inventory), technical help (which is a matter someone
taking time to talk), and services (which can be performed during downtime from
paid projects), cash comes directly out of someone's pocket. Small companies
are generally cash poor and cannot afford to contribute. When organizations
have cash, it is watched carefully by accountants. Someone high-ranking must
Every college and university is supported to some extent
by tax dollars and tuition. However the rest of its money comes from
contributions, endowments, and research projects. The same people in industry
who are in a position to help you with your Formula car support much of the
research your professors do. Every university has professionals and offices
dedicated to fund raising. Ask for help.
Funding is a sensitive issue in any organization. It is
important to start with your faculty advisors and work as much as possible
through your department (ME, EE, MSM, etc.). These people are also vital to
your project. You do not want to embarrass them or step on toes at the
university. If they don't have time to help directly, they are often aware of
who can help you design sponsorship proposals and develop strategies.
When asking for help with your fund raising campaign,
remember that no one is going to do this for you. The actual legwork of
identifying, contacting and following up with potential and returning sponsors
is going to have to be done by the team. You are looking for people who can
guide you and save you months of trial and error.
There are some bare minimum things that you will need to
begin your campaign. First you need a budget that reflects the total cost of
the project. Be sure to include entry fees, food, transportation and hotel
accommodations in the budget. The next things you need are attractive pictures
of a car to include with funding proposals. Prints are expensive for this
purpose. Color copies work well. People like to see what their money will be
spent on. If you have not built a car yet, create a drawing of one. Group
photos of the team with a car are also good, assuming the team is more than 3
or 4 people.Once sponsors have committed cash, materials, or services and
you've actually received them, about 60% of your fund raising work is done. You
need to maintain a good relationship with your sponsors so you will have their
continuing support. You need their enthusiasm for your project, future
contributions to the team, and even job offers for team members. It takes an
ongoing effort. Sponsors will tell you one of the biggest frustrations of
contributing to student groups is that once a contribution has been made, they
never hear from anyone again until the next request for more donations. Start a
newsletter for your sponsors and other interested parties. The newsletter needs
to go out regularly, at a minimum of every quarter. It should be short. Most of
the people you are sending it to are busy and have a lot to read. Two or three
pages are good. The newsletter should include, but not be limited to, updates
on the progress of the car, announcement of new sponsors, and exciting things
happening at the university. The point is to maintain contact with them over
the course of the project and make them want to stay involved. You should also
start and maintain an interesting World Wide Web site for the team, updated
with new content fairly often to keep people coming back to look at it.
A good sponsorship campaign doesn't just happen. It takes
time and practice. Often when a member gets to the point of being a good
fundraiser, he or she graduates and the knowledge is no longer available. The
team can benefit from having one or two sophomore or junior students involved
each year who can carry forward the team's collective knowledge about fund
raising. It is wise to keep organized and detailed records of which companies
were approached, who you talked to in each company, and what results were
obtained. Don't make future teams go down the same dead ends. If some
organization or person cannot or will not contribute, make note of it. It makes
the team and the university look stupid if the same questions and/or requests
come each year no matter how many times someone says no.
Recruiting, Selection and Retention
The most powerful tool that you have for recruiting new
members of the team is an existing car. Many people have been recruited by
parking a car in the lobby of a school's engineering building with a sign
announcing the first meeting. This is one of the simplest and most effective
methods. You can enhance the effectiveness of this display by putting out
brochures about the car that outline the program including membership
information and names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the team leaders.
People who want to get involved can't necessarily make it to the first meeting.
Don't exclude these people by saving membership information for the first
A car in the lobby of the engineering building should not
be the only recruiting method. It only attracts people who see it. In a lot of
colleges, this limits the team to juniors and seniors in engineering
disciplines. This is a good group to have, but it is important to get freshmen
and sophomores involved also. As was alluded to earlier, a fair amount of
knowledge and experience graduates with senior members every spring. For the
good of the organization, you need to have people around for as many years as possible.
To recruit freshmen, universities often help. They hold student organization
fairs during their welcome week. To participate takes some preparation.
Generally these events are planned over the summer and the prime locations at
the fair go to the groups that have someone on campus in the summer. Contact
your student life or equivalent office for details on how to get involved.
Another good place to find members is other student
organizations. SAE is unique; only a few organizations do a lot of hands-on
work. Ask other organizations like SWE, IEEE, and NSBE if you can make a short
presentation about the project at one of their meetings.
The majority of people working on the project will be
mechanical engineers. This is appropriate because much of the work falls into
the mechanical engineering realm. However it is worth getting a diversity of
engineering and other majors involved. At a minimum you want to have a cadre of
electrical engineers. The electrical system usually is not very complicated for
the average EE, but it can be very complicated for an ME. It is also fairly
common to want to explore electronic control systems for various functions like
shifting. People with non-engineering majors can make valuable contributions
too. Logistics management majors from your business college are trained in
finding suppliers and costing out manufacturing processes. Accountants are a
valuable addition to any team. Some person(s) needs to make sure the project
stays on budget and crunch all the numbers for the cost report. You might as
well take advantage of accounting systems developed for this purpose and bring
in students who want experience in this field.
You also want to recruit graduate students. They have
access to things that are not available to undergraduates, are generally
resourceful and reliable, and are likely to have a few years of work
experience. There is no substitute for work experience. If you can involve a
grad student who is working for the team faculty advisor, it can be a good deal
Once you have gotten a group of people together, you need
to retain them. This is one of the hardest jobs of leadership. No matter what
you do, you are going to have a lot of turnover. The project is demanding. Many
people cannot sustain the effort due to academic or other life commitments.
Some people don't like it or don't want to work hard. Others don't feel welcome
and quit. One common problem happens when a number of experienced members,
returning from a previous team, have an established close working relationship
which leaves new people feeling left out. This is often seen at early work
sessions and driving events. The old hands tend to dive in and do things while
the newbies hover at the edges. Another thing that discourages new members is that
the hands-on fun stuff usually isn't ready to start at the beginning of the
school year. What does need to be done at the beginning of an academic year is
grunt work like cleaning work areas and sorting parts. If you can get your new
members to share in these chores, they will begin to feel included in the
project and team spirit will begin to develop between new and returning
members. The time when your new members will get excited about the work itself
is when you start designing and building stuff.
One key to retaining people is to give them some realistic
expectations up front. They need to know that in the early stages there is
grunt work to be done but it gets more interesting. They need to know that a
high level of personal commitment is expected. More than 10 hours per week is
normal. They should also know that shoddy work is not going to be accepted. A
"D is for diploma" attitude won't fly.
Another key to keeping people is to have fun. Unless you
are starting completely from scratch, one of your first activities as a group
should be to take the old cars out and run them around a parking lot. Once you
have gotten a taste of what these cars can do, it is hard to walk away. When
someone comes back from his or her first drive, s/he is usually grinning from
ear to ear and ready to work.
Don't take your old cars apart. You need them as
recruiting, retention, and motivational tools. You also need them as driver
training tools and test beds for new ideas. If you are starting from scratch,
try to cut a deal with a local go-cart track for seat time to gain driving
experience. Also, contact your nearest SCCA chapter and find where autocrosses
are being held nearby. In many autocrosses you can take your street car out for
runs around the course. Remember the rules say you are designing your FSAE car
for these nonprofessional autocrossers. Learn as much as you can from them.
The last key to retaining members is your group process.
Since this is a volunteer group, all members need to know their ideas are
getting a fair hearing, even if the decision is to do something different.
Nothing drives people away faster than feeling ignored. You have to be careful
not to let a few people dominate discussions.
The officers of the group, Project Leader, Chief Engineer,
Treasurer, Secretary, or whatever titles your team uses, are generally chosen
by election. When selecting for other key posts, you may want to use another
method. Finding effective leaders for the different subsystems groups is vital
to the success of the project. The leaders have to be extremely hard working,
have excellent people skills, and be knowledgeable in the areas they are
leading. The chassis group leader needs to understand structures. The
power-train leader needs to understand engines, fluids, and heat transfer. To
find this kind of knowledge requires screening. Possible methods include having
the elected officers screen qualifications and select the subsystem leaders, or
creating requirements for the positions and letting the members vote to choose
between those who meet the qualifications. However you do it, you need people
who can work closely with each other. Personality conflicts among the
leadership are extremely detrimental to the team as a whole.
One of the unfortunate facts of life is that people are
forced for many reasons to drop out of the project or cannot be around at a
crucial time. It is critically important that for each key position and on each
subproject there be someone ready to step in and take over. This is called
succession planning. For each key person, you need to identify someone who can
replace him or her. Make sure the person you have chosen is working closely
enough with the key person to know the strategy, the overall plan, and what has
to be done next at any given time.
In classes we are generally given clearly defined problems
that include all the data needed to solve them and that have narrowly defined
ranges of "right" answers. On this project you will be continually
presented with problems that are ambiguous. There will be many solutions that
will work and no "right" answers. You will not have all the
information you need. This is where you start learning real engineering and
management skills. If you don't know something, you have to go learn it. The
real world is ambiguous; start getting comfortable with it. Engineering is not
a science. It is the art of finding solutions and making good choices. Science
only provides the paints and brushes you will use.
Goal setting is an area where many teams get themselves
into trouble. Typically they make plans that are far too ambitious for the
available resources. It is easy to do. By the time students fully understand
the enormity of the project, they graduate. One of the reasons for this manual
is to impress upon all the new people just how big a project this is. The Big 3
(Ford, General Motors, Chrysler) and their competitors (Toyota, Honda,
Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, Hyundai, Kia, etc.) take a minimum of 22
months to bring a new or revised car to market. This is 22 months of full time
work by large teams of experienced engineers and technicians who have been
building cars for a long time. Many of them are world leaders in their
professions. The OEMs also invest several billion dollars in the process.
Some of you may be thinking, legitimately, that you are
not trying to build something as complex as a normal production car. While an
FSAE may be simpler in terms of the number of parts, the process of creating it
is the same. The main difference is that design compromises are all biased
toward dynamic performance.
Depending on how well organized you are, you will have 9
to 18 months and a few thousand dollars to build a new car. Furthermore, you
will be doing all the work with part-time student volunteers who are learning
the processes as they go along and whose top priority must be to pass their
The vast majority of professional race teams buy chassis,
engines and other components from professional vendors who have been designing
and building them a long time. They then spend thousands of hours and ungodly
amounts of money testing and tuning what they have purchased to make them
competitive. The people testing and tuning have also been doing it for a long
time. This is not to discourage you, but to help you understand how much is
involved in racecar design, construction and tuning. The good news is you are
competing against other colleges and universities and not against professional
race teams. The money, talent and other resource constraints of these other
schools are similar to yours. They will have to pull off just as many miracles
to get to the competition. The challenge you face is to do the best job you can
with what you have.
The first step is to establish goals up front and put them
in writing. It is easy to have people with very different ideas about the goals
trying to build a car together, and this can and does erupt into destructive
conflict. Making a list of goals that everyone agrees to helps diffuse these
conflicts. It also helps to keep the team focused. It is very easy to get off
track when you get into the details of the project. Revisiting the written
goals periodically helps keep it all in perspective.
FSAE attracts people with different goals and motivation.
Some students will want to build the most technically advanced (a.k.a. the
"coolest") car, cost, time and other considerations be damned. They
will want a carbon fiber monococque chassis, turbo-charged engines, complex
electronic control systems, and aerodynamic wings, basically all the tricks and
gadgets of Formula One or Indy Cars. They see it built by inexperienced
students in nine months with a few thousand dollars. Other students want to get
their hands dirty and learn by doing. They are satisfied with overcoming the
challenge of something technically demanding like FSAE. Among the last group,
which is usually dominant, are those who want to win.
Each of these goals is legitimate and can lead to a
satisfying experience. However, you must decide as a group what you want as a
team. Building a top-ten contender takes a different commitment of time, money
and other resources than being the team with the first
To run a Formula SAE team, there are many things that are
nice to have. It would be great to have all the resources of Chrysler
Technology Center or GM's Milford Proving Ground. Things like big offices,
brand new workstations with the latest design tools loaded, a staff of
dedicated fabricators and technicians waiting to turn your latest drawings into
three dimensional reality, and a million-dollar budget. You are not going to
have that. You will have a few thousand dollars, your own ingenuity, and a
group of other students who are as crazy as you are. You have to create
miracles over and over again to get this project done. There are six minimum
necessities that you must have to make this project work. In order of importance,
¥ Commitment and Faith
¥ Work Space
¥ Good Relationships with Faculty Advisors and your College
¥ Machine Shop and Welding Facilities
Trying to run
the project without these is nearly impossible.
This project is going to be tough. You can't give up when
things get difficult. You have to be absolutely committed that, come hell, high
water, bureaucratic snafus, reluctant sponsors, broken axles, and blown
engines, you are going to finish your car and race at the FSAE in May. You must
resolve, no matter how bad things look, you will get there. When you do
something ambitious like this, stuff happens. Assuming you all are familiar
with Murphy's law, you need to know Murphy is going to come and visit. If fact,
Murphy will knock you down and kick you several times. Things go wrong at the
worst possible times. Someone who is building a critical part is going to quit
the team and disappear with everything needed to finish it. A critical part
that a sponsor promised is not going to come because a budget got cut. This is
a normal part of life in FSAE. You have to be strong enough to recover from it.
The next thing you need is people. It takes dedicated work
by a team of people to make one of these projects happen. After talking to many
FSAE teams, there seems to be a consensus that you need a core of 8 to 20
people who are absolutely committed to the project. This seems to be critical
mass. Beyond that you can have a larger group who are involved in one aspect or
another of the project. However, when you try to get large numbers of people
involved, coordination of the work can become more complicated than the work
itself. On the other hand, very large teams do exist in the world of FSAE
When you have dedicated people who know that they are
going to build a car no matter what happens, you need money. Raising money is
covered in the sponsorship section. Do not start spending in major amounts
until you have created an overall plan that everyone has bought into.
With commitment, people and money secured, you have to
have workspace. My impression is that the majority of FSAE teams work in
corners of sympathetic professors' labs. Space is a highly politicized issue on
most campuses. Do what you need to stay on good terms with the people with whom
you share space. If you get kicked out, it takes a long time to find somewhere
to move to, time you need to be working on the car.
Good faculty advisors are worth their weight in gold. You
are taking on a project that is very difficult and complex technically. It
requires the group to find its way through an economic, political, and
organizational landscape that is equally complex. You will need advocates in
the university. You need guidance from people who have been around long enough
to know how to get things done. Faculty members who are willing to take the
time to get you through both jungles are truly special people. Treasure them.
Last, you really cannot build a new racecar without a
machine shop and welding facilities, or at least access to them. Many schools
continue to try. It can't be done very well. If you have enough money, you can
hire someone to do it. Budget at least $15,000 if you decide to have all work
Safety is one of the stickiest issues surrounding a
Formula SAE team. You are building a racecar. Racecars have a well-deserved
reputation for being dangerous. In order to build the car you will use welders,
saws, machine tools and chemicals of all descriptions. Like the car, all of
these things are safe if used properly, unsafe if used improperly. In the
environment of easy lawsuits and substantial jury awards to people who do
stupid stuff, there is a lot of justifiable nervousness about letting students
anywhere near anything that could possibly hurt them. All it takes is one
serious injury to shut down your team for good. There are plenty of people in
positions of power who can't understand why you would want to do anything other
than just go to classes and graduate. There are also plenty of people who would
like to kill student projects because they see them as creating work and
problems that they should not have to deal with. Don't give these people any
leverage to pull the plug on you. Formula projects have been killed or almost
killed many times when people did things that were dangerous, seemed dangerous,
or were stupid. Examples I have heard of include driving Formula cars on public
roads and driving a Formula car around at night with a headlight duck-taped to
the frame. The temptation to do things like this is very strong. DON'T. You are
working with stuff that is not idiot proof. Don't be idiots.
It is inevitable that your group is going to attract
someone who is a flake. This is why safety rules are created. Unfortunately,
often you don't spot them until they are in the shop or in the driver's seat.
It is almost impossible for a group to be self-policing. Work with the faculty
advisors to develop procedures that will limit people's opportunities to hurt
Success in the FSAE is going to depend on effective
management of one of the more complex adaptive systems that you will ever
encounter: a group of people. Too many engineers assume that individuals can
just come together and start working. It is not that simple. To get a project
the magnitude of an FSAE car together takes effective teamwork. Effective teams
can build societies, pyramids, or really fast cars. Ineffective teams waste
resources and spoil the potential of their members.
Engineers have a reputation for not having good people
skills and being hard to work with. There is a kernel of truth in the
stereotype. Fortunately you don't have to be a "people" person to
work effectively with your teammates. However understanding the basics of group
dynamics can help you diagnose problems and see where your own behavior is
helping or impeding the progress of the team.
Behavioral psychologists have found that when groups form
around work, they go through roughly four stages. They call these forming,
norming, storming, and productive. The forming stage is where people come
together and begin to get to know each other. Typically there is a lot of talk
about non-work related stuff. People start learning each others' names and
about each others' backgrounds. The norming stage is where many of the formal
and informal rules of the group get established. The level of formality between
group members, acceptable subjects to talk about, how different ideas are
received and evaluated and how different ethnic groups are treated are all
things that get laid down, at least on an informal basis, during this stage.
The storming stage is where people kick around ideas and visions of what the
group might do and how to accomplish them. This is also where the work of the
group gets started. The last stage is where most of actual work gets done.
Teams are fragile entities. A lot of things can go wrong
and frequently do. Each stage depends on an increasing level of trust and
commitment between members. A potential team can get stuck in any of the first
three stages and never get to being productive at all. When people leave or
join the group, the whole process starts over. This is one of the reasons it is
often hard to join an existing team or to integrate a new person. New
relationships have to be established and new norms created. You may not want to
be bothered by this intangible touchy-feelly stuff, but it is the difference
between a great team and an average team. Rather than go through a bunch of
locker room cliches like, "There is no I in team," just remember that
your success depends on how you all work together. No one can do this alone.
There are things that you can do to improve the group
process. Start by letting other people talk and listening to them. Listening is
an active mental process where you try to understand meaning. This is not the
same as hearing which is a physiological recognition that sound is leaving
someone's mouth. Argue design questions on quantifiable aspects of the problem.
Focus on the problems and don't personalize disagreements. Don't discount
something because you don't like the person who thought of it. This is most
important. Deliver your pieces of the project on time and on budget. Finally,
you must be thick skinned. Not everybody is going to like your ideas. Most
people are not shy about letting you know it. If you can't handle criticism or
you get mad if the group doesn't do it your way, find another profession.
There is no one right way to lead people. There has been a
lot of study of what makes good leaders. There is no one set of characteristics
that distinguishes good leaders. Leadership is situational. What works any
given time may be wrong at another. How you interact effectively with your
followers depends on where you are in the group process. In the early stages of
the FSAE project, new members need a lot of direction at work sessions and
meetings. They don't know where to find tools. They don't know all the tricks
to putting something together or taking it apart that you figured out last
year. Some of them have never worked on a car before. New members, for the most
part, are going to need teaching and close interaction until they start feeling
confident about what they are doing. Team leaders need to prepare enough
structured activity for early get-togethers so no one is standing around. A
fast way to lose people is to waste their time.
Fairly quickly the leaders will be able to step back more
and eventually start delegating things directly. If you delegate too much right
away, people are going to get mad at you because they are not ready for it. If
you continue to closely supervise people after working with them for six
months, they will be equally mad at you because they don't need close
supervision any more. It is a fine balance that you have to maintain. I have
heard FSAE leaders complain bitterly about new people needing to have their
hands held. They looked on this as some sort of weakness. If you find yourself
feeling this way, be patient. Your new members will gain confidence if given a
chance. On the other hand, if they sense disdain from you, they will quit one
by one and soon you'll be down to five people trying to build a car.
Here are some things to expect as a leader. First, a
minority of people in the group will cause the majority of the problems. It
comes with the territory. You will get at least one individual who needs a lot
of attention. Another common team dysfunction happens when different groups
don't see each other working. Small fragmented subgroups are notorious for
assuming that other members or groups are not doing anything. On a regular
basis, perhaps weekly, each subgroup should update the team on what they are
doing. They should explain what they have done since the last update, what snags
they have run into, what they are doing about it and finally their measurable
goals for progress by the next update. This approach can do several good
things. It communicates that progress is being made, highlights bottlenecks in
the process, and gives the team members goals to focus on. It can also bring
the power of peer pressure to motivate individual members. There are few things
as uncomfortable as standing in front of a bunch of your friends who have been
busting their butts on something if you have been spending too much time
playing Doom and drinking beer.
Dealing with University Bureaucracy
The bureaucracy at any university can be one of your
biggest problems. The systems for purchasing and tracking parts and materials
were designed with many goals, but the responsiveness and speed needed for FSAE
or other student projects are not usually among them. The bureaucracies are all
different, but there are a few guidelines to dealing with your local
bureaucrats. First, as students you are only going to be around for a few
years. The people who work at the university are going to be there many more.
You are going to go away after graduation. The natural tendency for anyone in a
bureaucracy is to give top priority to those who can make his or her life most miserable.
Slow rules and procedures will get followed unless someone up the command chain
says its okay to do differently. You need good relationships with faculty and
administrators. Second, almost everyone who works in a college or university
has been burned, or knows someone who was burned, by a student who lied. It is
going to take time to build credibility. Your credibility is really fragile. DO
NOT engage in unethical behavior. Don't falsify documents. Don't use money for
other than its intended purpose. Don't accept money under the table. If you get
caught, you will kill your Formula team and taint every other student project.
The last thing is to make sure you understand who owns the cars, tools and
spares, and what authority you have over the disposition of them. Generally you
will end up with stuff you are not using or don't need. It makes sense to sell
or trade for what you do need. Every organization has rules for disposing of
things. Don't get yourself into trouble by selling college property without
PART II: Design, Construction and Preparation
What is a racecar?
This might seem like a stupid question but it is
surprising how many different answers you will get. It is also surprising how
often students end up wasting valuable time because they never decided what
they are trying to create.
One simple, useful definition is this. A racecar is a
vehicle that has nothing on it that is not required by the rules or that does
not make it go faster. This definition gives you two important questions to ask
about every design decision. Is it required by the rules? Will it make the car
go faster? The third question for FSAE is, will it get us more points? Asking
these will help when deciding between alternate sets of ideas or solutions.
A common misconception is that one part of your car is
most important. Some people will argue that the engine, chassis or suspension
is most important. There is no one most important part of the car. A racecar
without power is not competitive. A racecar that won't turn is not competitive.
A racecar that won't stop is not competitive and is going to injure someone. A
racecar that won't last is not competitive. The car is a collection of systems
that must be integrated. It must accelerate, brake, and corner well. It must be
inexpensive to manufacture. A car is a complex system that solves a complex
Another misconception is that FSAE is a good place to
develop new technology. No FSAE team will have the knowledge and resources to develop
brand new technology and still meet eligibility requirements for members. You
can be innovative. But the place to do it is packaging existing parts and
technology. Some teams use new technology developed at their universities. Some
teams use new materials or parts that are donated to them by manufacturers who
want to showcase their products.
Very little in a modern racecar design is new. The first
double-overhead-cam four-valve-head race engine appeared in 1916. The first
stressed-skin monococque chassis was built around the same time. Electronic
fuel injection was developed in the 1950s. Tubuler space frame chassis were
state of the art in 1920's aircraft. Composite materials date back to at least
the 1940s (several hundred years if you count adobe as a composite material).
Experiments with anti-lock brake systems were being carried out in the early
1950s. CNC machining has been around since the early 1970s. Much of what we
think about as "high tech" has been around for longer than a lot of
you who are reading this. It takes a long time and a lot of development money
for technology to reach the point where it is reasonable to put it into a $5500
racecar. The skill that is most important to develop is to be able to use what
is available to you. If you are interested in developing really new technology,
there are design competitions better suited than FSAE.
A final misconception is that competitiveness in the FSAE
comes from having the best car at the competition. Competitiveness comes from
having the best combination of car, drivers and presentations. The team with
the most points wins the competition. If you want to win, make decisions that
add more points to the total at the competition.
The majority of the points are available in the driving
events. The driver is the biggest variable in determining how well a car will
perform. It is no accident that Formula 1, CART and NASCAR drivers are the
highest paid professional athletes in the world. In FSAE race preparation,
driver training and selection are routinely neglected. At the time of this
writing, only a handful of teams have come up with effective ways of getting
drivers trained. For a lot of teams, good drivers happen by chance and not by
design. Hopefully more teams will develop a systematic approach to driver
training and selection.
Lessons learned the hard way
Lesson Number 1 - Make it SIMPLE
Tattoo this on your forehead, put a note on your bathroom
mirror, or use it as a meditation mantra. Do whatever it takes to burn it into
your brain that you are going to make the car as simple as possible.
First, keep in mind that you will not be able to come up
with a completely new design each year and get it built and running in nine
months. One key is to reuse any good designs you have from previous years. If
you have a system from last year's car that works and works well, use it again.
Make minor improvements if appropriate but keep major redesign work at a
minimum. Save your time and energy for the systems that were less successful in
For any system or part that requires major redesign, keep
it simple. You realize after you have designed and built a few pieces and
systems that it is harder to build something simple than to build something
complex. It is easy to make things that are complex and heavy. It is harder to
build things that are complex and light. It is hardest of all to build things
that are simple and lightweight. To be competitive you make things simple and
Simplicity is hard to achieve because it takes the most
thought, planning, and design iterations. Simplicity pays handsome rewards. I
have read that William Kettering, the head of GM engineering when such landmark
designs as the small-block Chevy engine were conceived and developed, had a
sign on the wall of his office that said, "Parts left off weigh nothing,
cost nothing, and don't cause service problems."
One of the non-technical reasons for keeping designs
simple and parts count low is that for a manufacturer there is less inventory
to keep track of and inventory = $$$. This becomes important in your Sales
Presentation. For you, the racer, it means carrying fewer spares to the track.
You want to minimize, not just the total number of parts, but also the number
of different kinds of parts.
Another concern is that more pieces take longer to
assemble. Assembly time has to be counted in the cost report. Longer assembly
means more time in the shop building the car and less time driving it. At the
competition, things break at the absolutely worst times. Often you have to tear
half the car apart to fix it and there is only an hour until you have to be at
the starting line. This DOES happen. The more pieces to assemble, the less
likely you will make the race. You also have more opportunities to assemble it
wrong. You will be embarrassed and could be injured when this happens. I have
seen a car fail because students in a hurry forgot to put nuts on the bolts
that hold suspension arms on the car!
Lesson Number 2 - Force = Mass x Acceleration
The point of building a racecar is to maximize
acceleration in any direction the driver wants to go. Applying simple algebra,
we get Acceleration = Force / Mass (A=F/M). F (force) is effectively limited to
80-90 horsepower by the engine intake restrictor. The only unrestricted way to
make a faster car is to minimize M (mass). The engine is in many ways the heart
of the car. However, the strongest heart can only do so much if the rest of the
body is overweight.
Lesson Number 3 - Packaging and Integration Drive 90%
One of the most difficult things about designing an FSAE
car is thinking of everything that needs to be mounted on the car and then
integrating it into the design. This is the first major design and prototyping
project many of you have worked on. What often happens to inexperienced teams
is that major components are designed and built, then the team starts
assembling the car and immediately runs into things needed to make the car work
that no one thought of. It can be as simple as nuts, bolts and brackets, or it
can be a major system. You must plan ahead where to package all the minor as
well as major components. It takes time up front but saves time overall. If you
are not thinking about integration issues all through the process of designing and
building your car, you will spend countless hours trying to figure out how to
mount and package critical things like fuel tanks, intake manifolds, and
batteries that could have been packaged easily if more thought had been given
to where to put them in the first place. For example, a team finds the perfect
location to install a unit, only to realize that this installation will
require-moving a frame tube half an inch or more in a non-critical direction.
By the time the frame is welded up, it is really too late to make such changes.
Since most of you are engineers, placing high in the design event carries high
prestige. It is important to the future of the team and your career to do well.
Lesson Number 4 - Read the Rules
With amazing regularity, students don't read the rules and
design things that have to be altered substantially to be legal. These parts
almost always become heavy, complicated, expensive and failure prone. Anytime
lots of bits and pieces get thrown together at the last minute, the whole car
becomes heavy, cluttered and failure prone. Last minute fixes are easy to spot.
The design judges do see them and deduct points. It wastes time you could be
driving or sleeping, something no Formula team ever gets enough of.
Number 5 - Allow Enough Time for Details
One of the lesser-understood aspects of designing an FSAE
car is that the smallest parts take the largest amount of time. Typically the
major components of the car, the frame, suspension arms, intake and exhaust
system, etc., take about 30% of the total time to build the car. The detail
work, like pedals, pedal mounts, motor mounts, fuel lines, paint, wheel hubs,
instrument panels, differential mounts, half shafts, shifters, wiring,
brackets, spacers, fuel line routing, brake line routing, steering wheel
mounts, steering column mounts, throttle cable, break light switches, chain
guards, and oil seals, take the rest of the time. This is perhaps the most
important work. It is said often that God is in the details. Regardless of
religious aspects of doing a good job on the details, the details are what
separate the best from the also-rans. Time must be budgeted with this in mind.
Well integrated systems and components are a big part of what makes a racecar
Novice car builders always grossly underestimate the time
it takes to have a vehicle on the ground and running well. When I was working
on my first FSAE project, an experienced member told me to use the rule of pi
when planning any part of the car. The rule of pi states that when you have
made your longest possible estimate of time needed to do something, multiply
the estimate by pi (3.14) and that is the minimum amount of time that it will
take to get it done. It works! Things always happen that you can't plan on. A
machine shop is closed at a time when it is supposed to be open. You need data
from someone who just found a new boyfriend or girlfriend or, worse, broke up
with one. Someone breaks a tool that is critical to your project. Your
professor decides to make a course more "challenging." You get called
for an interview with your dream company. Your parents see your grades and
demand changes. All of these things happen to students while trying to finish a
A misconception of many newbies is you can design, build
and install a part and it's done. It is never that simple. A racecar is always
a work in progress as is every part on it. It is not unusual to go through
three or four iterations of a basic design before you have something good. It
is also not unusual on your first three or four projects to get halfway through
building a part or system and then think of a substantially better way to solve
the problem. It is easy to design something that can't be built with the tools
you have. A typical sequence of events goes like this. Design a part. Redesign
because you had better idea. Start over because you can't buy the right
material for the new design. Redesign because the parts you attach to have
changed or you realize you forgot something. Redesign and build, test. Find
problems. Make more changes. Retest and make final tweaks. All of a sudden the
part you thought was going to take two days to finish has taken two weeks.
Lesson Number 6 - Get the Electronics Working
One story I have heard from many teams goes like this.
"We had a new engine person this year and/or we started using a new fuel
injection system. The engine teams worked really hard to design and build an
intake and exhaust. When those were done in April, they started hooking up the
electronics. We had a lot of problems. The engine didn't run until two weeks
ago. It isn't running right and we have had almost no seat time." For some
reason, the uninitiated (this included me) have a tendency to think that
setting up fuel injection or other engine electronics is going to be easy. It
is not. I think we are lulled into this by the relative ease with which you can
set up a stereo or a Playstation. I have never been involved with student built
fuel injection, but I would guess the problems are ten times as complicated as
commercially available equipment. Hooking up the wires is relatively easy.
However, that is just the beginning of the process. Each wire is connected to a
sensor. The sensors have to be mounted somewhere. Almost none of the engines
commonly available for FSAE were designed with EFI sensors in mind. You are on
your own to find a workable placement and build the mounts.
The bigger problem areas are the crank position and (if
you are running one) cam position sensors. These usually consist of magnetic or
Hall-effect sensors that generate a signal from their proximity to a trigger
wheel. The trigger wheel is a piece of metal attached to the crank that has
teeth machined on it. Both the sensor and the trigger wheel have to fit
someplace on the end of the crank where the engine designers didn't leave room
for it. This takes awhile. This is where you need electrical engineers. Sensors
and triggers have to be in exactly the right proximity to each other to get a
signal the computer can read.
You have to start installing, tweaking and debugging the
engine electronics as early as is humanly possible. This has to start before
you have your intake and exhaust systems designed. Teams lucky enough to have a
dynamometer need to get the engine installed on it as soon as the engine is in
your possession. If you don't have one, build a test stand. It need not be
fancy. It just needs to be something you can mount the engine on to run it long
before the car is finished. It is going to take quite a while to design and
build the final intake and exhaust for your car. Don't wait until they are done
to get the engine running; have it running before your school breaks for
Christmas/New Year. Create some temporary intake and exhaust manifolds. They
don't have to be legal or even practical for the final car. You need to do
Assuming your electronics are working correctly, chances
are very good the fuel and spark maps are nowhere close to what will start the
engine and have it idle reliably. Again, barring electrical problems, you can
plan 20-60 hours of trial and error just to get the engine to start and run
reliably when cold or hot. Remember the rule of pi.
Lesson Number 7 - Avoid $2 Part Failures
In Formula SAE, as in other forms of racing, you will see
spectacular failure of major components once in a while. The majority of the
problems that sideline cars come from parts that cost $2 or less. In fact many
spectacular failures start from something simple like a bolt breaking and
jamming itself into otherwise perfectly functioning machinery. Many FSAE cars
are sidelined when critical junctures of the cooling system come apart. Hose
clamps fail regularly, most often because they are improperly installed or
reused too many times. Be sure that you are using parts in the manner that they
were designed to be used or in a way that will not overtax them. In 1995 an MSU
student used a plastic 90-degree pipe designed for garden hoses in the cooling
system. It lasted until the last driver in the last event of the weekend had
just pulled off the track and shut the engine off. We were lucky. If it had
failed one minute sooner, the car would not have finished the event and MSU
would placed closer to fortieth or fiftieth instead of twenty-eighth.
to Get You Started
One of the smarter solutions that teams use for planning
and keeping track of everything that has to go on the car is to take an
existing car that is race ready and legal and inventory all the parts on it.
Start with large items like the chassis, body, engine, control arms, springs
and shocks and move down to all the little parts like nuts, bolts, washers,
shock mounts, shift lever, brackets, and cables that take the most time to create.
Once you have the master list of everything on the car, use it as a guide to
creating the new vehicle. As the new design comes together, keep referring to
the list and check off items as they are finished. Keep asking the questions,
"Have we planned for X? Do we know where Y is going?" It will be time
consuming to catalog all the parts. However, in the long run it can result in a
much better vehicle. Since you have to have an inventory of parts for the cost
report on your new car, this inventory also becomes the framework for your cost
It is critical for the chassis to be done early, or at
least to be designed and a full scale model built. Packaging drives 90% of the
design decisions. The chassis is the package that everything must fit into.
There are three sets of critical "hard points"
that you need for the design. They are the cockpit dimensions and control
locations, the engine/powertrain dimensions, and the suspension points. Engine
dimensions are the easiest, assuming you have an engine. As soon as the team
has formed, put a crew on the job of measuring the engine in every dimension,
especially the mounting points. Next, work up measurements for the driver's
cockpit. To test ergonomics, a mock up of a cockpit can be something box shaped
that various people can sit in to try different positions for the steering
wheel, pedals, shifter, and switches. Find an arrangement that is comfortable,
makes every thing easy to use and puts the driver's weight as low as possible.
You will need adjustments for different size people, such as a combination of
padding and adjustable pedals. Measure how much room is needed for the driver
to move, paying particular attention to the elbows, knees, and feet.
The suspension points often take the longest to specify.
The suspension geometry has to balance a lot of conflicting elements and it
takes time to get to a workable solution. By the time you have gotten the
driving position together, the suspension points need to be ready also. From
there you sit down with the rules and your knowledge of structures and play
"Connect the Dots."
It is usual for these points to come into conflict. The
steering rack regularly appears between the driver's feet or legs. The only
thing you can do is compromise. The temptation is to compromise toward the
functioning of the machine and away from driver ergonomics. However, if the
driver can't use the controls easily, the driver is not going to go as fast.
The driver is the biggest variable in dynamic events. Make the job as easy as
possible. You have to be able to use all the controls, throttle, brakes,
shifter and clutch, AT SPEED!
One thing that helps to focus on your task is to have a
picture of what the car will look like when it is finished. This is difficult
without a frame, but it is possible to guess within about a centimeter where
most of the hard points will be and create a picture from that. You can
certainly get close enough to begin designing the major structures before all
the hard-points are set. The sooner people know what the space looks like, the
sooner they can eliminate ideas like three-foot-long intake manifolds and focus
on something that will fit and do the job.
In 1996, as this is being written, you need to build a
$6000, 500-lb. car. You need at least a month of driving to tune and debug it
and for the drivers to get seat time. If you want to be a contender for the
overall win, this is the price of admission.
Powertrain & Electrical
The powertrain and electrical systems on an FSAE car are
fairly straightforward. Everything is based on technology that has been proven
over the last 40 to 100 years. Do not underestimate the amount of time it is
going to take to make everything work. You will gain a new appreciation for the
effort that went into making your daily driver work as well as it does.
The question that the group almost always starts with is,
"What kind of engine are we going to use?" It is an important
question. The car doesn't go anywhere without an engine. However, there is a
lot of work that is independent of the engine that can and must be started
while engine decisions are still being made. An engine needs to be connected to
a differential. The differential has to be connected to C.V. joints and half
shafts to get the power to the wheels. If you use a chain or belt to transmit
power to the differential, the chain is going to stretch and will need to be
adjustable somehow. A sprocket has to be attached to the differential. You will
have to engineer that. The pieces that connect the differential to the C.V.
joint almost always have to be designed and built by the team. You can be 99%
sure the half shafts will need to be a length not commercially available and
the team will have to design and build those also. All these pieces need to be
strong enough to transmit the engine torque, and brake torque if you are
running inboard brakes, and yet be light and not cost too much. It takes
thoughtful design with attention to detail and a lot of precision machining.
This attention to detail separates the top teams from the also-rans.
A project that can be started before the engine decisions
are finalized is the cooling system: This is VERY important. The racecar that
can't cool can't do anything else. The final specs of the system will depend on
the engine decisions, but there is plenty of groundwork to be done. Cooling
system calculations are no mystery. There are probably a hundred million
vehicles on the road each day that don't overheat. However someone on the team
has to learn how it is done. Someone has to build or borrow a test rig to
measure all the relevant temperatures, pressures, and flow-rates. If you are
using a liquid cooled engine, you have to source the heat exchanger or radiator
from somewhere. Someone has to make sure it is mounted in the chassis in a way
that it won't be damaged, has sufficient cool air coming into it and has
somewhere for hot air to escape. Don't make any assumptions that a stock bike
radiator will be sufficient. Countless races have been lost because of this.
One last item, which needs thought and planning, is gear
ratios. The final drive ratio is the only one that you can change easily. If
your team has the resources to custom configure the internal ratios of the
gearbox by the time you read this, congratulations! You have a level of
sophistication that exceeds anything I could do. Whether changing internal
ratios or just the final drive, the engine torque has to be usable to the
drivers in whatever event they are driving. There are good books on the
subject. One mistake that is often made is gearing the car for the acceleration
event only. If you are only going to run one gear set at the competition,
optimize it for the endurance event. That is where the most points can be
earned and the most driving will be done.
The suspension work begins with determining the suspension
geometry. This ultimately determines the mounting points for the steering rack
and control arms. There is a lot of work that can be done while the geometry is
being worked out. All the parts that the team does not build, such as tires,
wheels, springs, shocks and spherical bearings, a.k.a. rod ends, heim joints,
uniball joints, have to be sourced from somewhere. The challenge is to find
parts that are appropriately sized for a car as light as an FSAE. If you copy
exactly Formula Fords or other cars with a comparatively high minimum weight,
your parts will be oversized for the application. I have seen cars using
spherical rod-ends that could support suspension loads in a Chevy Camaro. Rod
ends are available in many sizes. Size appropriately. Shocks built for cars
weighing 4 to 5 times as much as an FSAE appear regularly. Larger parts are
more expensive and add weight. The newest trend is to use high quality mountain
bike shocks and springs.
Do not make things any larger than needed. Think things
carefully through. Remember that your part has to stand up to more than just
average use. Suspension and frame parts have to be able to withstand the
occasional jolt from hitting large bumps. Powertrain people need to remember
that someone will inevitably spin the engine to 9500 rpm and dump the clutch
hoping to do a John Force style burn out. By the way, it doesn't work. FSAE
cars rarely have enough torque to get a good pair of slicks smoking.
Remember that racecars are inherently high maintenance
machines. It is entirely appropriate to use or design a part that will wear out
quickly. This is not an excuse for being shoddy or not doing your homework. It
means that parts that wear out regularly like brake pads and disks, suspension
bearings and bushings, and drive chains can be sized for a short life between
replacement. You have to be really anal-retentive about checking the whole car
each time before it is run. Rebuild or replace anything that is questionable.
A final hint. Where possible, iterate off of an existing
design. It is much easier to take an existing part or system and analyze the
strengths and weaknesses than to start from scratch, especially if this is the
first car project a student has worked on. Your school has a lot of tools that
can help you figure out where to reduce cost and mass.
Full Scale Model
Creating a lightweight, well-integrated car means packaging
everything in three dimensions. To see and think in three dimensions, the
solutions used in the auto industry are appropriate for FSAE projects. You can
build a full-scale mock-up of everything to see if it all fits, or if you have
access to computers with the sophisticated CAD tools that are available, you
can generate virtual models of your car. They take more drawing and software
expertise, but the function is the same. On really complicated projects they
save time and money.
Lessons Learned From FSAE Competitions
Be visual. You need to communicate a lot of information in
a short time. Pictures are worth at least a couple hundred words each. Think of
ways to graphically represent what needs to be said.
Cost Analysis & Presentation
The bulk of the work is the cost report. The presentation
is to clarify and/or defend things that the judges don't understand. It is
mostly reactive for the presenters. The presenters should ideally be the people
who compiled the report. Between them, they need to know where everything on
the car was included in the cost report. It is hard to argue and negotiate with
judges when you are staring at each other saying, "Uh... didn't we report
the pedals in the chassis section? Maybe they're in with the brakes." It
looks unprofessional. The judges expect you to have your stuff together. They
might be inclined to be charitable to college students except that other
schools put on the kind of presentation they are used to seeing at their jobs
The cost score comes from the price of the car and how
easy it is to understand the information. They take specific numbers and
compare them to the average or median prices from all the reports for the
particular item. If it is below it is adjusted upward with an associated
penalty until they see the car and verify that the item is indeed cheaper. If
you don't include an item, then they adjust to the average with a penalty
unless they can verify that the car doesn't have something. Even then it is
discretionary. There are some things they require on every car. For example,
you will be penalized for not including paint for a steel chassis. It can be a
$10 item if you put just enough Krylon on to keep the thing from rusting. The
judges know what many things should cost. If you deviate from that, then you'd
better have documentation in the form of receipts or price quotes from
suppliers. Every novice team tries to save money by under reporting assembly
time for each subsystem and the whole car. The judges are wise to that scam and
won't fall for it.
It is a good idea to begin each section of the report with
a short paragraph describing the pieces of the car and how they work, something
like, "The brake system has dual master cylinders attached to the pedal
through a balance bar mechanism. The pedal is of our own design and
construction. The balance bar components were purchased. There are three brake
calipers, one on each front wheel and one acting on the differential in the
rear..." The goal is to make it clear exactly how the thing is put
together. A good test for whether the report is complete enough would be to
hand it off to someone not familiar with the car and see if that person
understands it and what questions are asked. The easier it is for the judges to
read the report and understand what you have done, the higher the score will
be. These are relatively easy points to get. It takes time to get a good cost
report together. Start it at the beginning of the year.
Since 1995, the cost judges have been running a seminar at
the competition on how to prepare a good cost report, and as a result, the
quality of the reports submitted has improved dramatically. What was an
outstanding report in 1995 became just average two years later. The trend is
toward more and more complete documentation. Filling a three ring binder with a
three to five inch stack of documentation is not uncommon. Try to get logistics
management, accounting, and industrial engineering students involved. They will
be able to add insight. Anyone reading your report should have no questions as
to what any part looks like, who is going to manufacture it, how it will be
manufactured, how long it will take to assemble, and how much the materials
The design competition is the most prestigious of all the
static events. Winning it gives bragging rights for the year. There is a
certain amount of luck to winning the dynamic events. Track conditions change.
Things are shortened or rescheduled because of weather. Sometimes slower traffic
holds you up. Scoring high in the design presentation will help to make up for
problems in other events in the eyes of sponsors and the university.
There are really two things that you are being judged on
in the design competition. The first is the actual car itself. The second is
how well you understand it.
The first and most important thing in the design event is
for the presenters to be assertive. Typically the judges will come and start
looking over the vehicle as a whole and at certain details. A lot of them don't
ask questions. They look at what you have done and evaluate it. They are human
beings, not gods. They make assumptions about what they see and their
assumptions can be incorrect or right on. They may not see the best thinking or
understand why something is the way it is unless you explain it to them. They
are also evaluating some 80 plus other cars and may just not have time for the
logic of some particularly good idea to leap out at them. Judges also have
preferences. They know a lot about what does and what does not work. You have
to be ready to explain clearly what you designed and why you made those
particular choices for your car. Presentations put together at 4 a.m. on the
way to the competition after a week of all-nighters will not get you much.
Once you have a conversation going with the judges, you
have to demonstrate knowledge and reasoning. The underlying question a judge
has is why. Why did you do it that way? What was the thought process? Do you
really understand what you have? Engineering is, at its heart, an art form, the
art of choosing compromises that best solve the problems presented. It is not
only important to intelligently present the advantages of each aspect of the
design but to know its limitations as well. The judges want to see that careful
thought and analysis went into the decisions made. It is necessary to do your
careful thinking about the design decisions up front. How will you explain it
to the inquiring mind of someone who has been racing all his/her life?
The judges also want to see data. You may have had the
most brilliant thought process in the history of mankind to make the design
decisions you did. The judges are going to be skeptical unless you can show
them real data that proves your point.
Again, it is important to have visual aids. When the car
is put together, some of your best work may be buried in the middle of an
assembly somewhere. Pictures of how things fit together help a lot. Photographs
of the car during construction, exploded assembly drawings, graphs of
horsepower and torque can all help to communicate how thoroughly you have
thought out your design choices.
You need to have most of the team on hand so the
presenters can refer a question to the person who designed and built a
particular item. It is also useful for junior members of the team to see and
hear everything so they can be better prepared for presentations in future
years. You also need to have tools there in case anything needs to be taken off
or taken apart to show some particularly ingenious bit of engineering.
When preparing the sales presentation, think about what
you would want to know if you were a customer. If you were a non-professional
weekend autocrosser buying one of these cars, what would you want to know about
the car? At a minimum, probably performance and price. You would also want to
know what it looks like, parts availability, and ease of repair. Think about
what else you would want to know and include that information in the
The concept of the competition is that you are making the
sales pitch to a manufacturing company that is considering building and selling
1000 of these racecars. If you are the manufacturer buying a design, what will
you want to know? You will ask everything that the non-professional weekend
autocrosser would ask because you have to sell cars to these people.
Additionally you are going to want to know how difficult it is to build this
car, what inventory is required for construction and service, and so on. A manufacturer
will want to know the processes used to make your decisions. What computer
modeling was done? How much testing has been done? No one wants to buy a design
that is going to break regularly or is untested.
When you have thought through the customer side of things,
start collecting and organizing the information you will need. Think about what
makes your car unique: Your original design features? Your creativity in using
readily available, inexpensive parts in new, appropriate and innovative ways?
How you saved money, inventory or assembly time by the simplicity of the design
of part x or system y?
Finally, as with all the other presentations, be visual!
Make sure you have charts, graphs, photos, and spare parts to illustrate the
message. Again, make sure the message is clear and the visual aids add to that
clarity. It is easy to get caught up in making charts, graphs and photos that
look cool and forget about the message. In 1994, MSU showed up with a 4-minute
professional video that outlined the processes used to create the car that
year. The presentation judges said afterward that their first reaction when
they saw that our presenters had a video was, "Oh no." A previous
team had shown up with 10 minutes of home movies of their car driving around in
The first and most important thing is to be safe. Pay
close attention to the officials and corner workers. They will see things you
don't. I have seen at least three cars catch on fire where the driver was
clueless until s/he was black flagged. In the endurance event, move over in the
passing lanes when someone faster is behind you. You will be penalized if you
don't. Many places in the overall standings have been lost by drivers'
inattention or by big egos in the passing areas. Drive within your limits and
the car's limits. Few of us are blessed with natural genius for driving fast
like Michael Shumacker or Dale Earnhart. Don't put yourself, your team or the
event staff at risk by trying to get more out or the car than there is.
One of the most heartbreaking and often embarrassing
things you see at every FSAE is someone with a great run that ends because of
something simple that was overlooked before the car hit the track. You have to
develop a systematic and consistent way to check all the critical nuts, bolts,
hose clamps, fittings and electrical connections each time before the car goes
on the track. This is a safety issue. You do not want critical parts of your
car, like wheels, falling off when your are at speed. One of the simpler ways
to keep track of your preparation is to create a set of checklists for each
part and system of the car. This gives you a written record of what has been
checked over before you drive and you don't have to rely on the memory of
someone who has not had enough sleep for the last three or four weeks.