Personal Dopeness >> Photographer Becomes the Driver and Designer
After reporting on drift events from across the country for now three years, it feels odd to step back from the camera and instead become the car designer, builder, and driver. Outside of shooting for OMGDrift, I am actually a mechanical engineering student at Florida Tech in my fourth year of studies. As a final test of our ability to design and build a project, myself and a team of engineers spent two semesters designing, building, testing, and finally competing with a vehicle built almost entirely by our own hands.
Formula SAE is a competition organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers to test students on multiple engineering concepts before sending them into the real world. We are handed a large set of rules and guidelines before delving into the construction of an open wheel, formula race car. Months were spent in Solid Works designing and placing all components needed to complete our vehicle before construction and competing at our May competition in Michigan.
I played the role of Chassis Lead on the Florida Tech Motorsport team, taking lead over the design and execution of all frame, aerodynamic, and driver control components located on the vehicle. The frame is the glue that holds all components together, so this had to be completed early and correctly with attachment points for all powertrain and suspension components. Aerodynamics, seats, and other miscellaneous components were constructed with carbon fiber weave by myself and my team.
After months of development, we finally managed to get the car completed and on all four wheels with only a few nights to spare. But just because the vehicle could finally stand on its own four legs didn’t mean we had finished the vehicle. Bugs constantly plagued our powertrain as they attempted to understand the CAN AM engine we were working with.
Once our issues were repaired, we were able to bring our vehicle to Trick Pro Motorsports for some much needed Dyno time. After adjusting a few maps, we were able to even out our power input and have a final reading of 37.9 horsepower. This number might seem low, but with a vehicle weight of sub 4oo lb., it doesn’t take a lot of power to get these vehicles up to speed.
With the vehicle tuned and the remaining pieces added and packed into the trailer, we headed off on our two day trip from Florida to Michigan. Despite the number of trips I have made from Florida to the northeast, it still puts a smile on my face each time I spot my first set of mountains cresting around the bend. With a van packed full of snoring teammates, the mountains definitely kept me awake after hours of driving.
As a halfway point on the way to and from Michigan, our Faculty Advisor Ronnal Reichard opened his cabin to us high up in the mountains of North Carolina. With a change in temperature from the 90s in Florida to 40s of the north, everyone was thankful for the heat trapped in his cabin.
Once we arrived in Michigan, there was no time to sit and relax. With tech inspection occurring the day following our arrival, we had a handful of last minute items to complete before we knew we could pass. With our pit area set, we delved right into working out a few of the issues that arrived during our trip to Michigan, rushing to prepare the car in time for our appointment.
In order to compete in the dynamic events of Formula SAE, our vehicle needed to complete four areas of testing: A full check over of all systems for compliance to the rulebook, tilt test to ensure all fluid containers have are leak free, noise compliance under 110 decibels, and brake check to visually confirm that all four tires will lock during braking. We were able to finally apply our fourth sticker the morning of events, showing both officials and competitors that we were ready to compete.
Running straight from our final inspection, we pushed the car into queue for the skid pad event with an hour left of competition. With an unsuccessful first run, we sent our driver out for a second pass, hoping for a clean final run. Instead we faced a few more mechanical bugs that took us out of acceleration and the final minutes of skid pad competition.
Once again the bugs were sorted out and we lead our car out to compete in Autocross, an event testing the driver’s skills and cars ability on a quick minute long course with a bounty of points to be collected from a clean run.
Our first driver out was Jainero Watts, setting a best of three laps at 60 seconds. With top teams reaching below 50 second laps, we were unhappy with our result and I was put into the car to try out my luck. Unfortunately I only ran two laps before the course was closed for the day with a best of 62.8 with a few seconds added for penalties. At this point, I began wondering if I should just stay behind the lens instead of attempting to drive at events.
The next morning would mark the last day of competition, with us competing in the first group of the day for Endurance, a 24 lap race with two drivers taking on 12 laps each, a challenge that less than half of the field would be able to complete before the end of the day. We woke up confident, hoping to become the first team from our school to complete Endurance.
Our drivers for the day were selected to be Cooper Olson and Kennon Matthews, Cooper with blue accents and Kennon in red. While we were excited for the day, other teams didn’t seem too impressed with our efforts. Soon we were to find out if our hard work would pay off.
The race started off great, with the car running fairly well with no issues seen in the first few laps. Cooper seemed to gain confidence with each lap, until halfway through his stint, when his laps seemed to drop quickly in pace. After 12 grueling laps, he pulled into the paddock, with our next driver ready to hop in. We noticed an issue immediately with the differential, but kept moving, hoping for the best once our driver was strapped in.
With two minutes left for our driver to restart the car and head back to course, the starter was pressed but the engine was unable to turnover. Jainero and I attempted to help and diagnose our starter issues, but officials kept us back, explaining that he needed to start under his own power. Before we knew it, the two minutes were up and we were pushing the car back to the pits with no celebrations heard from our solemn group. Once we returned to the pits, we realized that our driver had not put the car in neutral, a necessity in order for us to start the vehicle. Once out of gear, the car immediately came to life, leaving us shocked at how close we were to being able to finish Endurance.
With a final position of 76th out of 126 teams, we certainly could have done better, but we had come to compete, a feat our school was unable to complete since 2009. Celebrations were had by a few of us in the small town of Jackson, Michigan, happy that the competition was finished and excited over all we had experienced over the past 2 semesters. With the vans packed again, we headed home, providing the 2014 Formula team with a new test mule as they ready themselves to compete next May.
Thank you to all who were involved and helped make this car a reality.
Photography by Brice Burkhardt and Micheal Suen
Written by Brice Burkhardt