Engineers build race cars for use in Formula SAE

Andrew Messamore

The championship competition for one of the largest intercollegiate sport in the world may be returning to UT next year.

In Formula SAE, 450 teams of engineers from around the world design, build, test and race their Formula 1-style racecars against each other for international audiences.

Teams consist of around 30 engineers who are given the chance to apply what they’ve learned in class by designing an actual race car, which can range from 30 mph cars to 200 mph dragsters.

The 30 year-old competition is an Austin original, started in 1980 by UT Mechanical engineering professor Ronald Matthews and a group of students from the Society of Automotive Engineers. Formula SAE was created after Matthews decided that UT should have a competition after the Houston-based “Indy-style” competition UT was set to participate in was canceled, Matthews said.

“We decided to start our own race,” Matthews said. “We picked an engine that worked for a race car, which was usually something that went 12 mph and had the engine of a lawn mower, and we started in some parking lots east of campus in 1981. Now we hold competitions in Italy, Brazil, Germany, Australia and the U.S. in massive airstrips and actual race tracks.”

Matthews said he is now working on bringing the Formula SAE competition back home by using Austin’s new Formula 1 track, set to be completed around November.

“We came up with idea to put something educational out at the Formula track,” Matthews said. “We are working with support State Controllers Office and the Department of Energy to have a facility built for us. Since the Formula 1 competition is in November, we aren’t expecting a facility to be built until 2013.”

The Formula 1 track may also focus attention on Austin’s automotive industry, said Eric Pak, mechanical engineering senior.

“The Formula 1 track has been bringing in automotive business as well as a lot of hype,” Pak said. “Since the announcement of the new track, there’s been lot more interest in racing, and it’s been taking people to places like ‘Driveway Austin,’ where people can learn how to use and drive race cars. A lot of people are oblivious to auto events like Formula 1 and NASCAR, and the track will bring out the auto-savvy aspect of Austinites.”

Adam Pate, Formula SAE design lead and mechanical engineering senior, said The Formula 1 track could alter the image of Austin as being a “green city.”

“I think Austin has a reputation as being a really green city, and people assume that green means a ‘not-car town,’” Pate said. “Formula 1 has the potential to change the publicity that the auto industry is getting.”