UT engineering society pushes for new automotive research facility

Allison Harris

With a new race track on the way from Formula 1, the UT Formula Society of Automotive Engineers wants to build an automotive research facility to produce innovative vehicle designs and alternative fuel sources.

Ronald Matthews, academic adviser for the Society of Automotive Engineers at UT, said the team would work in partnership with F1 racing team AT&T Williams. The planned research facility would focus on engines, emissions and alternative fuels for the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Matthews said the UT team also worked with SAE International to bring the International Formula SAE Championship to Austin.

He said emissions and alternative fuel research could benefit public health and the country’s national and economic security.

“Alternative fuels are domestic fuels,” he said. “They generate jobs in America and because they’re domestic, secure fuels, they contribute to national security.”

Matthews said the research facility would also promote student interest in engineering and related college majors.
“We don’t have nearly enough American kids who decide they want to get engineering degrees,” he said. “That means engineering jobs are going unfilled, so we need to bring in engineers from other countries who take those jobs.”

Matthews helped start the Formula SAE Championship in Austin in 1981 and said moving it back to the city it will improve public knowledge of the team, which placed eighth in last year’s competition against 80 teams.

“Normally, when you compete against other universities like football or basketball, everybody on campus knows about it,” he said. “Here our Formula SAE team goes out and competes against the best schools in the world and nobody knows about it.”

Finance senior Mark Wise, a member of the UT Formula SAE team, said the planned partnerships would benefit business students as well as engineering majors on the team.

“A racing team is not just engineers and drivers,” Wise said. “Motor sports is all about marketing and actually getting the sponsors to come on board.”

Ali Putnam, a spokeswoman for the forthcoming Circuit of the Americas track, said she could not speak about the potential deal the UT racing team may make with the Williams F1 team. She said Formula 1 chose Austin as a location in part because Formula 1 Management President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone grew up in Austin and because it is accessible to teams from both the U.S. and Mexico. Putnam said a state economic impact study predicted the track would add $300 million to the area’s economy.

“It’s a very high-end sport, so people come here and stay for a few days, want to enjoy themselves and spend their money in Austin,” she said.