PROVO After four years of physics, calculus and related course work, some Brigham Young University engineering students are finally having some fast and furious fun.
A group of 20 recent graduates spent their senior year designing and building a formula-style race car, which they will enter at the Society of Automotive Engineers' Formula SAE West competition in Fontana, Calif.
Next week's competition, to be held at the California Speedway, will pit the creations of 70 schools from around the world against each other.
Robert Todd, faculty adviser for the project, likened it to learning to play baseball. All those other classes laid the groundwork, like hitting and fielding, he said, but this is the real thing.
"When (students) are seniors," he said, "we want them to play the game."
The final product is a sleek little racer that weighs about 500 pounds and can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds. Students designed and built the car from the ground up, using a motorcycle engine to power it.
They also built the carbon fiber casing on BYU's five-axis mill.
A complex computer, donated by National Instruments, uses 24 sensors to measure every aspect of the car's performance, from acceleration to tire temperature and shock performance.
"This is the best learning opportunity I've had at BYU," said Ryan Blanchard, a student team leader. "This is what engineering is all about; the full project the budget, working with people, and really crunching the numbers and turning out a finished product."
This will be the first year BYU competes in the Formula SAE competition, which runs June 14-17. Each car will compete in eight categories, which judge the vehicle not only on its performance on the track but its design and construction as well.
The students began building in September, and team members have spent at least 20 hours a week each since then, though for some members like Blanchard that number is significantly higher. He estimates he has put in 50 to 60 hours a week.
And though BYU will be a rookie in this year's competition, Blanchard said he and the other designers are confident in their creation.
"Obviously other teams have the edge on us, but we think we can turn some heads and represent BYU well," he said. "We'll give them a run for their money."
Brian Winder, who helped design the car and is one of four student drivers, drove it at Thursday's unveiling.
"It's pretty cool; it's unlike any other car out there," he said. "It handles so much better, but it's pretty bumpy and it throws you around a lot, so they strap you in there pretty tight."
Winder and the other drivers were selected after winning a driving competition among all of the team members.
"I was pretty surprised (to win)," Winder said. "I didn't think I'd do that well. I didn't have much experience driving . . . basically my only experience was from video games."
Winder said first-year teams are usually not expected to finish in the top 10 at the competition, but the team's goal is to reach that plateau.
Todd said the only real way to judge how well the students' final project turned out is how it does in the competition, but he was more concerned about what students have already achieved than how the racer places.
"It's very gratifying; I feel like a father with sons and daughters who sees them put their hearts and souls into something that is good and gives them lessons to use throughout life . . . it has really shaped their character," he said.
In his years of working as an engineer in the automotive industry, Todd said he has encountered few engineers with more promise than the ones he has coached during the past year.
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