TTU Motorsports team to race Formula car in Detroit

Faced with the opportunity to build a racecar designed for speeds up to 140 mph, Tennessee Tech University’s Motorsports team heads straight from the classroom to the shop most days to build a Formula-One-style car worthy of competing against cars designed by the world’s top universities.

In its third year of competition, the TTU Motorsports team, comprised of about a dozen students from several academic disciplines, plans to field a car in Pontiac, Mich., next month against more than 140 competitors from the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom in the annual Society of Automotive Engineers Formula event.

“We have completely redesigned this year’s car to be 10 pounds lighter and four to five times stiffer than last year’s car,” said team leader Jeff Foote, a senior mechanical engineering student. “We learned our lessons as a beginning team, and this year our goal is to finish in the Top 10.”

In the SAE event, students design, fabricate, and compete with scaled Formula-style, one-seat racecars. Teams operate on the premise that a manufacturing firm has engaged them to produce a prototype car for evaluation as a production item. In that light, they must not only build a sound car, they must also produce detailed cost reports and make proposals for marketing their car.

Restrictions are placed on the car frame and engine so the students’ knowledge, creativity, and imagination are tested, but sponsorships and funding still play an important role. The annual team budget averages about $25,000 per year.

“We’ve occasionally found ourselves sitting on our hands waiting for the money to buy a part or some materials we need to work with,” said Foote. “We take advantage of input from senior design classes and all the people and resources we have to make this car something the university and its alumni can be proud of.”

Mark Jackson, an associate mechanical engineering professor and team adviser, voices full confidence in the students he oversees.

“They know what they are doing,” said Jackson. “We not only have a talented team, but we are also able to allow other undergraduates to be involved with the research and development of different elements of the car.

“For instance, the engine intake manifold was created by students with computer modeling, and a prototype was built with the aid of the rapid prototyping machine on campus that creates 3-D models from CAD drawings,” said Jackson.

In fact, students are applying some of Jackson’s own research with fuel cells and nanotechnology to the car. Since SAE does not regulate the fuels and oils used, the students are experimenting with different types to reduce engine friction.

Although team’s are allowed to use parts from previous cars, TTU’s team decided to completely revamp this year’s car, concentrating on improved intake and exhaust systems, weight savings, ergonomics and the power and drive trains. Testing will soon begin on the new car, which will race in competition at speeds of about 70 mph, but can be geared to reach a top speed of 140.

This year’s competition takes place May 19-23 at Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome. Daimler Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., and General Motors sponsor the annual event, giving students an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of industry leaders.

Traditionally strong teams in the event include Cornell University, Georgia Tech and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available for companies or individuals. Most levels include sponsor logo decals placed on the car and the use of the car for company promotional activities.

For more information about sponsoring the TTU Motorsports SAE Formula Car, contact Jackson at 372-6143 or Foote at 252-2517.

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