by Svetlana Ozden

UNM’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team has designed and built a racecar that accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4 seconds.
Systems Engineer Devin Plagge said the team, LOBOmotorsports, will compete in a four-day competition in Lincoln, Neb. in June against 80 international teams. He said the teams will be judged on design, presentation, cost, performance and endurance.

Plagge said the team focused on making this year’s car revolutionary, smaller and 60-70 pounds lighter than their car last year. He said the car is about 450 pounds, which is about 90 pounds lighter than the 2011 model, and the chassis is 12 inches shorter than the previous design.

“We’re one of the first teams to run a belt-driven axle instead of a standard chain-driven axle,” he said. “We also use a snowmobile engine rather than a motorcycle engine, which is what most racecars at the competition use.”

Project Manager Garrett Kuehner said the team has built upon UNM’s previous success and continues to design and build a faster, lighter and more reliable car.

“The 2012 racecar has a lower center of gravity and wider track width for improved lateral handling, less inertial losses in the drivetrain,” he said. “I’m proud that the team was able to integrate all of the individual subsystems into a highly competitive, fully functional vehicle.”

Kuehner said the program lets engineering students experience the same sort of problems they would face in a job after college. He said students gain experience in designing, testing, balancing cost and meeting deadlines for their product. The program also serves as a realistic crash course in what many engineers will be doing once they leave college; building complex machines.

“It gives students hands-on experience to physically apply the knowledge attained in the classroom, and gives us an advantage over other engineering students when we graduate,” Kuehner said.
According to the Formula SAE Handbook, the engine must be a 4-stroke piston engine and cannot exceed 610 cc per cycle. The handbook also states that every car must pass inspection including a 45 degree tilt to ensure the car does not leak fuel, and a 60 degree rollover stability requirement.

Mechanical engineering professor and Program Director Dr. John Russell said a lack of funds limits the team’s ability to complete. He said the registration fee alone costs $2,000 and the team’s budget of about $55,000 is incredibly low compared to some of the other competitors.

“Some teams budget well over $1 million,” he said. “The Graz University of Technology spent almost $2.3 million on their car in 2011.”

Russell said the team has done well in the past despite its small budget. He said the 2011 team built the first car that proved it could compete in the top 10 internationally.

“We placed 8th in design and 9th in autocross,” he said. “We finished in the top 25 percent of teams even though we are in the bottom 50 percent in terms of budget.”

Russell said the team is funded by the department of mechanical engineering, student fees, the dean and the president, but the funding only makes up half of the team’s budget. He said the team had to find additional sponsors and received a $10,000 sponsorship from Sandia National Labs, the team’s largest contributor, this year.

But Russell said the competition comes second in the program. He said the focus is on the fundamental values of engineering that students can use throughout their academic and professional careers.

“We’re one of the few schools who do it through accredited courses,” he said. “I can easily write a recommendation for any of the students in the program because they’ve already experienced it all.”

Russell said the Formula SAE competition was incorporated into the mechanical engineering program at UNM in 1998. He said the team has participated in the competition every year since 1997 except 2009 because the engine blew out a week before the competition and could not be fixed in time.

According to LOBOmotorsports, the 2011 racecar placed 26th, despite a hub failure that caused the team to not compete in the endurance portion of the competition. Team LOBOmotorsports placed 24th in 2008 and 19th in 2010.

UNM Formula SAE team
Test Run
Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
G Lot
open to the public