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Monash Uni wins thrilling Formula SAE-A
Seventh win in a row comes despite problems and challenges from home and abroad
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15 Dec 2015
By IAN PORTER
MONASH University has lifted the Formula SAE-A crown for the seventh straight year despite some near-fatal glitches and stiff competition from University of Melbourne and University of Canterbury.
The latest win owed a lot to some nerveless driving by the team’s two pilots and some consistent results across the eight-category competition.
The Formula SAE contest, which is organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers-Australasia, entails designing and building a race car from scratch within a budget of $50,000.
This year, the annual event drew a record entry of 30 vehicles, with six teams travelling from overseas to Calder Park. The students from University of Missouri were so keen, they came even though they had to sit their exams on the Monday after the competition.
A total of six electric vehicles were in the field, with the RMIT EV heading this class with its second consecutive seventh place overall.
The two Victorian universities were chased home by two New Zealand teams, the third-placed University of Canterbury and the consistent University of Auckland.
The Monash team’s challenge nearly flamed out when the car refused to fire up for the autocross event.
“We had a million electrical issues, gremlins,” said one of Monash’s drivers Ryan Ockerby.
The team managed to scramble the car into the autocross competition with three minutes to spare, but they still had problems.
“Some we didn’t actually find, and (Monash second driver) Michael (Geist) had to drive around them in the autocross.
“We decided to keep a constant throttle. We couldn’t slam on the throttle otherwise the car would just die.”
Mr Geist might have had to drive around the problems, but his last-gasp effort was good enough to snatch the win in that event on virtually the last lap.
Mr Ockerby said the suspension design had a lot to do with the result.
“Thankfully, with the hydraulic system we have on the car, it just goes over the massive curbs. It was like a dream over them.”
The team was fortunate later in the day, too, as the car was black-flagged off the track during its second endurance run when it began spewing out oil and water.
However, the “banker” laps done in the first endurance run were good enough for second in that event behind University Melbourne.
Monash won both the design event and the autocross.
Melbourne’s only event win came in the endurance contest but, like Monash in autocross, it was a last-gasp effort.
“We had to pull out of the first endurance race,” team leader Mark Bloom said.
“We had some brake and throttle issues. But we got it all sorted and put in what we think was a pretty good performance in the second run.”
Good enough to win.
Melbourne’s second place overall underlined the team’s consistency, after coming third in 2013 and fourth in 2014.
“This is our first year with a full aero package. It’s been a journey,” said Mr Bloom, who noted that the team has not had the benefit of a wind tunnel.
“At the moment we are using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and some makeshift wind tunnels with some fans and some smoke machines and we work out what our parts are doing.”
The University of Canterbury won the business case presentation event and the skid pad exercise, on its way to third place overall.
The car is built around a carbon-fibre monocoque and was immaculately presented at Calder. It uses a turbocharged single-cylinder engine like the Monash car.
The team was in contention for the overall win right to the end.
“We finished the two endurances,” team leader Peter Sise said. The endurance event offers a possible 325 points and is the most important event. It also carries a possible 100 points for fuel economy.
“The first one we went out and put in some pretty good lap times and finished with no issues,” Mr Sise said.
“In the second we went out with our fast drivers and they put in some pretty fast lap times, in the 1m39s range, but then we had a few issues being off the track with a spinout.”
Canterbury won the skid pad event and was second in the autocross.
The University of Missouri was the best-placed international team outside Australasia, in sixth overall, which is about where it finished in an 80-car Formula SAE contest in Nebraska earlier in the season.
“We did fairly well, in the top 10 in Nebraska, and then we thought well, let’s see how we compare internationally,” said Professor Rick Whelove.
“Then we came here and we found out there are better teams.”
This was Missouri’s third visit to Australia and Professor Whelove said the trip fell right at the end of semester, which is exam time.
“I have some exams that I will administer here and send back electronically.
The students have to get permission from their professors to leave their classes.”
Fortunately, most of them are mechanical engineering students in Professor Whelove’s classes, although there is an electrical engineering student and a business administration major.
Although there are car assembly plants around Missouri, Professor Whelove said the Formula SAE experience held all the students in good stead when looking for employment.
“Our students, even though they participate in an automotive competition, may not work in the automotive industry. However, this is an excellent resume-builder for them.
“The fact they have conceptualised, designed, manufactured and built a car, developed team work and shown competency, that’s basically what they have done here.
“Working under deadlines that are insane, working within budgets that makes them wish they had more (money) constantly. That is very important to industry, obviously. They don’t have to spend as much time training these students.”
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