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Race car fever hits WSU students

1:51:25 PM CDT - Wednesday, April 05, 2006

By Chase Willhite

The need for speed has hit WSU, and it's turned into an ambitious project for a group of engineering students.

The team of students is working on a race car to compete against more than 140 other universities in the annual Formula SAE road-racing competition to be held in May at the Ford Motor Co. Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich.

car
Photo by David Dinell
Joshua Straka takes measurements of the mini-race car he and other engineering students are building that is expected to race in an international competition frequented by folks from the NASCAR and Formula One race car circuits and auto industry, looking for prospects to hire.
"It's hard to believe how much work has already gone into the project," said Oscar Garcia, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering who serves as team co-captain. "We've still got a ways to go, but we see more progress every day."

Garcia and his team are the first group of Wichita State students to compete in the Formula SAE competition, a program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. In the past, students from WSU have competed in the SAE Mini Baja competition, which is an off-road race, as opposed to the Formula SAE competition, which is on a more traditional racing surface.

For Garcia, a lifelong fan of cars and racing, the competition provides an opportunity to gain experience in the automotive industry and compete in a contest he'd read about for years in various automotive magazines.

Despite the success in getting the project off the ground, the team has faced some obstacles along the way.

Garcia, co-captain Garrett Duncan and SAE project treasurer Josh Straka undertook the task of recruiting other team members and finding funding for the project.

The group got $30,000 from Student Government Association and secured sponsors from area businesses including Learjet, Atlas Spring and Axle, Saum Engineering, Product Manufacturing, Knights of Columbus, Little Mexico, Terracon Consultants, Keller Radiator and Globe Engineering. Like NASCAR race cars, the WSU car will carry the logos of the various sponsors.

According to Garcia, the team initially had 42 people interested, but that number has waned significantly as the hours got longer and the project required more attention.

 "At this point we're down to the guys that are really serious about trying to accomplish something with this race car," Garcia said. About a dozen have remained dedicated to the job.

Even though they're making their first appearance at the Formula SAE competition, Garcia and his teammates have several goals for when they reach the Michigan racetrack.

They said this year is about, first and foremost, giving WSU a presence at the distinguished competition. They also hope to learn from other, more experienced schools.

 "Of course, first we have to actually finish a car," Garcia joked.

Another benefit to competing is the possibility of drawing interest from prospective employers. All of the major automotive companies, as well as electronics companies and consulting firms, attend the competition to look for talented and dedicated employees.

Race car teams from the NASCAR and Formula One circuits also come to scout students interested in being on design or development teams.

"For anyone interested in working in the industry, it's a major advantage to compete in Formula SAE," Garcia said. "Some companies have gotten to the point where they'll only hire students who participated."

As the competition nears, the team will focus on finishing the car and auditioning drivers to take the wheel of their completed project. It's at that point that the team will see how far they've come in terms of engineering, designing and testing.

No matter how the team does this year at the competition, Garcia hopes to see Formula SAE become an every-year project at WSU. Even though he'll be graduating, he'd like to see the project really take off and involve more WSU students.

"Someday, it would be great if we could also draw in students from other majors that could help with different parts of the project," Garcia said. "People in business, marketing, communications and graphic design could be great additions to the team in the future."



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