Temple Formula Racing Soars in SAE Competition

While most College of Engineering students were focused on finals and graduation on North Broad, a small group was hundreds of miles away, taking a different set of final exams. Temple Formula Racing joined 120 teams to compete at Formula SAE Michigan.

Temple’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers gives students the opportunity to develop skills from classroom learning into real-world applications designing and building a race car. The team works year-round on the ground floor of the College of Engineering building to prepare a model for annual competition.

This May, TFR traveled to Michigan International Speedway for Formula SAE Michigan, the largest and longest-running SAE competition in the United States. The event gives students an opportunity to pursue opportunities in automotive engineering, by designing, testing, and showcasing a single-seat race car for the non-professional weekend autocross racer. The competition includes schematics, marketing, budget analysis, car inspection, and performance, judged by industry professionals.

After finishing 48th last year at Formula SAE Lincoln, a smaller event in the summer that drew over 70 teams, the Owls finished 72nd at SAE Michigan. This was an improvement in recent performances, when TFR didn’t break the top 100 in 2014 or 2015.

The team put together a sounder, more durable car for this competition and were rewarded for their efforts. “We tested the car and nothing broke on the car, which was a relief,” said rising senior and incoming TFR president Aaron Snyder after the event. “Going into competition, we were able to push the car. We compete in each event multiple times. In years past, we only did an event once for fear of the car breaking. This year, we were very confident in the car’s ability to hold up through each event.”

Temple was one of the first teams to pass the tech inspection, which covers a 200-page rulebook, and competed in each round of the performance events. Last year, the team only ran twice in the skidpad and once in the autocross event, while making just four of 15 laps in the endurance race. This year, TFR completed all four rounds of acceleration, skidpad, and autocross, while completing the 22-lap endurance test.

A big improvement from last year’s model was the accurate and successful CAD designs the team created in the early stages. Using Solid Works, the team built a car first electronically, then in the shop. The team chose to build all the parts they could in-house, with the help of shop managers and other engineering professionals. Not only did things fit together correctly, building the parts in-house gave the team extra time, mitigating the lost month-plus from competing in Lincoln last June. “We had more time to verify things so we could perform tests before it was actually on the car, moving,” said Snyder.

TFR faculty advisor Dr. Richard Cohen helped the team create a production schedule that they used to finish on time. He noted the strong design stemmed from a focus on the chassis and suspension being designed first and together, serving as the car’s foundation. “They did it early in the process, early in the year, so we weren’t waiting for them to finish their design and construction, in order to do all the rest that had to be built around it,” he said in his office. “For the rest of the car, they took last year’s design and improved it as necessary, but kept the same general design.” The accuracy of the build helped the team pass the inspections and avoid making adjustments on the body at the event.

The car is like a powerful go kart, powered by a motorcycle engine. At two inches off the ground, it is certainly not street legal (nor would it be able to survive long on the pothole-riddled streets of Philadelphia). While the competition restrictions will keep the car from reaching its capability of 80 miles an hour, the team have designed the car to maximize handling and control. Handling and precision control differentiate open-wheel cars, like the Formula 1 cars that dominate international racing, from the pure speed and power featured in stock cars, the foundation of NASCAR. Temple Formula Racing team built their model in this vein, as they have for more than 30 years. 

Showcasing their work is nothing new to the TFR team. In addition to the SAE events, Temple has displayed a car at the past four Philadelphia Auto Shows. The team also made a memorable (and loud) demonstration down 12th Street in front of the College during Engineers Week in February.

The team did better than previous competitions but still see room for improvement. While they completed the autocross and endurance tests, their times weren’t fast enough and cost them points. The team hopes to build on what they have this year, which is a working model that can be altered and worked on to find improvements. “You want to be able to have that year where you have a base car that everything works, which this car proved to be,” Snyder said. “We’re hoping we can have a very similar car without major changes. What that allows us to do is validate our engineering design. Instead of doing a complete overhaul and having to remanufacture new, different parts, we can spend more time on our engineering designs, which is what the judges really wanted to see.” TFR hopes to get more data from the car, which will help with their presentation scores, and find those fractions of a second that can propel them up the rankings.

The team has some positive momentum to match with favorable factors entering next year, which they’re already doing. Work on this model didn’t start until late June, following the Lincoln event, forcing a truncated work schedule. Snyder admits those extra weeks could have been used for driver training, which will help the team’s performance in the racing events.

The team graduated four seniors, including outgoing president Jon Petrina, but will welcome back 25 members in the fall. Dr. Cohen noted the active membership was the highest levels he’s seen since the 90s (the professor in mechanical engineering has served as the group’s advisor for over 30 years). In the current group, about a third of the members are female. Dr. Cohen hopes the team will have more chances to showcase their car and keep gathering data. “In order to improve, we have to keep working with the car as it is to test it, see where improvements are worth pursuing,” he said. “This car is well-equipped to go outside and race around courses we can set up in parking lots. It’s well-equipped to go to autocross event and compete in a way we can feedback and advice from people in the local area who are experts at racing modified vehicles. The idea is once during the summer, and at least once or twice during the fall, to take this car out and try to benchmark and see if there are modifications to make.”

- Marco Cerino