Trevor's Journal: Formula SAE Lincoln

During June, Trevor Smith, a recent graduate from Cal State Fullerton, represented his alma mater in an international competition in Lincoln, Nebraska called Formula SAE. As you can tell by the name this is a racing competition. Schools from all over the world developed small race cars for this competition.

While most of the competition is about engineering there is a sizable portion that is about business. And that is where Trevor and his team come in. His group developed a business plan for the production and sale of this race car and he presented his work at Formula SAE.

What follows is Trevor’s diary of the event. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday June 21st: The Big DAY

After a quick night in Houston, I get some sleep to get up and grab a taxi to the airport around 6:00am. Today is the Big Day, everything the business team, as well as engineering team, comes down to this day, Thursday June 21st, 2012. Literally, everything, meaning our Business Plan presentation, is today. Likewise, the first stages of the SAE Formula competition begin, which are comprised of the judging of whether or not each teams’ vehicle meets the competition’s technical specifications that all cars must pass the three stages of testing in order to actually compete in the performance events. With my big presentation on the line, I pray that I get into Lincoln on time. Lady, luck was on my side this day; I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska around 10:00 a.m. and made the drive out to Lincoln, Nebraska by 11:00am

In getting into Lincoln before my presentation at 1:30, this gave me just enough time to gather up the lead engineer, Ben Lahiji, from the life or death technical specifications testing, and brush him up on the presentation flow, which slides we were to present, as well as any and all materials needed to present with. Both Ben and I arrived early to the off-sight location (which was an elementary school actually) to present. Once it was our turn, Ben and I walked into the small elementary school classroom to be greeted by a panel of 5 judges.

Low and behold, we forgot to bring the PROJECTOR even though it explicitly states that one must be brought in the RULEBOOK. AHHH!!! Adversity! How sweetly sporadic are thee! We rolled with the punches though and delivered a highly creative and dynamic presentation; especially after presenting on a 17 inch laptop to a panel of 5 judges sitting at 5 elementary school desks. The panel feedback was that our business presentation was unique in their experience as judges in this completion.

One strategy in particular that the panel liked was partnering with official racetracks and racing schools. Not only did we envision selling our vehicles to the racetracks and racing schools so that they could rent the vehicles out but that they would also become resellers.

After a successful panel discussion, both Ben and I headed back to the old air force runway out in Lincoln where the SAE competition was being held…. The pits (we called it the “Concrete Jungle”) was amongst us and we were submerged in the thick of it all. The vehicle… Passed all the tech specs…

Tilt Test and Decibel Test, which had to be under 110, we came in at 109 , with 2 mufflers!!! And Brake Test, which was to lock up all 4 brakes at once…. With a successful day out on the runway, our vehicle was ready to take on the performance events of tomorrow: acceleration, skid-pad, and autocross… until then….

Friday June 22nd: The Real Deal…

Friday was one of the most exciting days of the whole trip. The day started off around 9:30 a.m. 4.3 seconds is close to the fastest time put down on the acceleration event, and we, meaning CSUF’s SAE team, put it down. The rest of the day was also a BIG success. The team outperformed last years’ vehicle, in ALL aspects of the competition.

The design aspect earned 50 points versus that of last year’s 46. This design part of the competition consisted of a presentation from the engineering standpoint on how well the team was able to maximize the overall design with the technical specifications outlined by the SAE rulebook.

After the design presentation, there is a COST aspect or COST report that is submitted for judging. This years’ team was able to post 66.7 points versus that of last year’s 61. The cost report is an integral part of the competition due to the nature in which the cost report can either make or break the accompanying business plan. Basically, it’s just like any other business. If it costs more to make than you can make back by selling the product you will be out of business in no short order. And that would seriously hurt the business plan.

However, in order to better conceptualize the achievements/strides the team made from the previous year to this year within the business plan, is the fact that the 2011 SAE team had NO business plan WHATSOEVER. Thus, the business presentation this year was exponentially better than last year’s plan; such that the team came from nothing to something. The 2012 team scored 52.5 points versus that of the 18 points received from the previous year.

This dramatic increase in the overall points earned for the business presentation can be attributed not only to the fact that the team actually HAD a business presentation BUT also the creative strategies and overall thoroughness of the research conducted to justify the business plan, provided by none other than myself and the rest of the business team. After being out at the competition, it was clear, that having business students create the business plan was one of the BIG differentiating factors CSUF’s team was able to boast about.

Yet we still had to take on one of the other BIG performance events and the Autocross event was looming over us. The penultimate event, Autocross was unique in that it dictated the order in which teams would race on Saturday, the last day of the competition, in the non plus ultra of the overall competition, the ENDURANCE event. To begin, Autocross is a two lap, single driver race comprised of a large, dynamic track, designed to test the skills of even the best drivers. The faster the time, the later in the day, Saturday, the team will get to race.

Our team posted a solid time of 59 seconds, which was only six seconds behind the fastest time recorded on that day. We were in the middle of the run, for racing in the Endurance event….Needless to say, the weather say’s to expect rain, which is going to make for an exciting 19 lap Endurance event….

Saturday June 23rd: Endurance event…Always Always Double, Triple, Quadruple Check Everything…

With a time of 59 seconds posted in the Autocross event, our team was able to avoid having to race early in the morning. This was crucial, due to the fact that it was raining CATS AND DOGS Saturday morning, thus causing the first few teams, who posted slower times the day before, to post even slower times the morning of the Endurance event.

Let’s just put this Endurance event in perspective now, there were 80 teams total that attempted to compete in Nebraska, of those 80, 40 were able to pass tech. specs. & then get the go ahead to compete in the performance event(s). Of those 40 competitors, 20 raced Saturday morning, in the rain. Only 9 of the 20 teams successfully finished the 19 lap (10 laps with the one driver, and the latter 9 with a second driver). The morning poured rain, yet the storm seemed to pass by lunchtime. This was a blessing in disguise enabling the CSUF team to have good racing conditions, or otherwise DRY racing conditions to perform in the competitions LAST and most important Endurance event.

Our team was able to get through the first 8 laps, when adversity struck, or a bolt simply was not tightened all the way and fell off, then causing the chain to fall off, and cause the vehicle to be RED FLAGGED and ultimately disqualified from the Endurance event.

The team was devastated, even more so knowing that we could have successfully finished the Endurance event and managed to place in the top ten. However, despite the human error, the team was incredibly pleased with their overall performance out in Lincoln, Nebraska. The team placed 31st overall out of the total 80 teams present. Yet, if the team could have finished the Endurance event, which accounts for 1/3 of the competitions total points, the team could have placed in the top ten.

We were aware of this due to the fact that Cal-Poly Pomona’s SAE team scored lower in all of the events than we did, yet, they were able to manage through the Endurance event, and place 7th overall. Thus, if we were able to just finish the Endurance event, and get some of the 300 points, we would have been sitting much higher than that of 31st. Nonetheless, you live and learn, and always remember to check, double check, triple check, and even quadruple check all the components of the vehicle BEFORE any and all events, so that the vehicle is maximized for high performance output.

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