Longhorn Racing: innovation in automotive design, teamwork

Esther Grace Jin, Contributor

Editor’s note: This column was submitted by a member of the UT community.

The muffled roar of car engines crackled from the vintage television in the Chinatown hair salon while I waited for my father to finish his haircut. Across the flickering screen, a vibrant flash of red captivated my attention as it whipped around the track with unbridled power and energy. On the drive back home, I pressed my face to the window and watched as other cars passed by, the red ones particularly catching my eye. I would learn years later that I had witnessed Felipe Massa driving for Ferrari to win the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Peel back the layers of my being and, at my core, you will find a child obsessed with motion who wants to make things move, to make things faster. Coupled with a natural proclivity for math and science, my choosing to study mechanical engineering was a no-brainer.

In the classroom, engineering can seem distant, lacking a feeling of application. When I joined Longhorn Racing, though, engineering became real. Longhorn Racing is UT’s largest technical organization, with three teams that build an internal combustion, electric and solar race car each year. It’s here that I’ve found a community where I can delve into the complexities of automotive design.

The deeper you get into engineering, the more you realize that everything is merely a series of compromises. Shrinking the width of the vehicle to reduce drag and improve aerodynamic efficiency simultaneously reduces the vehicle’s ability to safely corner at high speeds. Increasing the front track width allows more room for the driver to comfortably egress, but it also risks oversteering and the potential loss of control of the car while driving. Cutting down the size of the battery pack saves weight but also diminishes the amount of energy the car can draw from.

The notion of an “ideal car” — one that has perfect dynamic stability, driver comfort, endurance, safety and speed — quickly becomes a pipe dream.

Solutions come in the form of strategic decisions with the entire system in mind. Choosing the priority in which certain requirements are met and visualizing how changes in each individual component relate to the system in its entirety are the core of project engineering. How these decisions are approached, made and validated are where innovation becomes necessary.

Working with different materials and manufacturing methods, devising new methodologies for test data collection and writing new scripts for experimental simulations are among some of the efforts that members are making in Longhorn Racing to innovate. Any and all innovations in the organization are born from a powerful culture of teamwork and cooperative action among engineering students outside of the classroom environment.

Advancing innovation in STEM at UT starts with the people. Rather than merely encouraging more students to pursue extracurricular opportunities, an investigation must be made into the factors preventing students from increased involvement. When I served as LHR’s recruitment coordinator for the 2022 cycle, we received nearly 700 applications, but due to limited resources and facility space, we could only take on 180 new members. Addressing the reasons preventing students from increased involvement and providing dedicated support toward growing technical student organizations will have a direct effect on a more vibrant and active UT community. Doing so fosters innovation and, ultimately, better engineers.

Jin is a mechanical engineering sophomore from League City, Texas.