Bearing the historic Texas slogan “Come And Take It” on their newly built Formula SAE race car, Texas A&M mechanical engineering students wanted their collegiate challengers to know they weren’t going down without a fight. After all, last year’s Aggie team claimed the title and this group of seniors was determined to do the same, and they did. For the second year in a row, a team of 22 Aggie mechanical engineering students designed the award-winning Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) race car.
Competing against 80 collegiate teams from the United States and other countries, the competition took place in Lincoln, Neb. June 19-23. Ross Curran, an El Campo High graduate and the son of Paul and Paige Curran of El Campo, was one of the 22 seniors on that team. Curran just graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the College Station campus.
The Texas A&M Formula SAE program is a senior capstone project in the mechanical engineering department in which a group of students design and build a race car.
“The Formula SAE design is the same concept of an open cockpit,” Curran said.
The project spans two semesters of coursework in which each student receives a grade.
“The project functions as our senior design project and I received an A for the course,” Curran said. “However, for this course the grade was not a factor going throughout the semesters. The value of this course comes from the hands-on experiences and learning gained while undertaking this project, not from the letter grade. Our grade as a team was defined by our standing at competition.”
And each team member had a job to do. For Curran, he headed up several components in the design of the car.
“I was instrumental in the design, analysis and integration of the aerodynamics package for the vehicle,” Curran said. “I specifically designed the front wing. I was the person in charge of the carbon-fiber manufacturing processes for all parts of the car. I had a hand in the lay-up of every component of the car, the front wing, rear wing, under-tray, nose cone, fuel tank, plenum, restrictor, radiator shroud, engine cover, seat, and more.”
He also headed up the planning and execution of wind-tunnel testing.
Curran’s team took first place in the overall competition after finishing first in the endurance and fuel efficiency categories, second in engineering design and third in auto-cross. With a combined total of 915 points out of 1,000, the team claimed the overall championship title.
“This has been one of the most cohesive groups,” Curran said. “There have been many sleepless nights in the amount of time each individual member put in to it.”
A typical design has the engine mounted behind the cockpit, but this year, Curran explained, “it is side mounted. A total of eight have done it this way,” he said. “Technically, it’s a sidewinder car.”
Curran explained that each team is evaluated on the performance of the car through two different events, static and dynamic, to determine the best car.
“The contest in Nebraska includes competition on the track, as well as being graded on the team’s engineering design, cost and business case presentation. Static is the formal design presentation,” he said.
This includes a technical inspection, cost and manufacturing for potential mass reproduction of the car, a business presentation and design of the car.
“The final static portion is the design competition and there are two rounds,” he said.
Speed is also considered.
For the dynamic portion, there are five areas where points are collected.
The first, Curran explains, is “how quickly does your car go and does it go in a straight line?”
The car is also tested for “endurance ... like the auto-cross with 16 laps total.”
Dynamic events include skid-pad, a test within a figure eight pattern; auto-cross, to test the car’s handling, and efficiency. The endurance portion also evaluates the car for overall performance.
Each car is evaluated against the clock in the auto-cross. Cars do not race side-by-side as in a typical race.
“We are racing against each other, but with a stopwatch,” Curran said.
Another goal for the team was to “make the car safe enough to run,” Curran said.
He went on to explain the different areas of testing, such as a technical inspection, brake test, noise level ... “it should not be overly loud,” and the tilt test where two of the car’s wheels should stay firmly on the ground, while tilted on its side with the other side lifted up at an angle. This portion checks the stability of the frame and checks for fluid leakage.
“During the design finals, they grill more on fundamentals ... professionals in the industry cover the nitty gritty,” he said.
Each year, a team of seniors work on the project from the ground up.
“The program at Texas A&M designs and fabricates a new car every single year,” Curran said. “A&M redesigns every single year and is very successful.”
Of the 22 team members, five are drivers. There is a project manager and five sub-teams with each of those sub-teams having a leader.
“The aerodynamic team is a team of four within the group of 22,” Curran explained.
At the conclusion of the project, “the car is auctioned off and the money goes back into the program,” Curran said.
The project is self-funded, there is no direct financial assistance from the university, he explained.
“One way (to fund the car) is by acquiring sponsors through large companies,” he said. “It takes $50,000 to $60,000 to build the car.”
Some of that monetary value is given through in-kind services, such as the use of a wind tunnel testing facility to test the aerodynamics of the car.
Curran believes in the team’s success because the university concentrates on producing great engineers.
“We are a team that makes good engineers that makes good cars,” Curran said. “The goal is to make bad ass engineers.”