Mechanical engineering major Jean-Pierre Sorondo was sitting in a computer lab at the Engineering Center when a computer caught his attention.
Displayed on the monitor was the design for the framework of a racecar and Sorondo, a sophomore who worked as a mechanic before coming to FIU, was immediately intrigued.
He asked the group huddled around the computer about the design and discovered they were building a racecar from scratch as a part of the FIU chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Each year, FIU-SAE creates a Formula-1 style vehicle and competes against more than 100 teams representing universities from all over world at the annual Formula SAE Michigan competition.
“They were doing real engineering work and I was attracted to it,” Sorondo said. “I told them I wanted to get involved and they said ‘We’ll put you work.’”
Sorondo started out creating parts for the car and eventually worked his way up to chief engineer and currently, in his senior year, serves as the team’s acting president.
For Sorondo and his team members, there is no better way to put the theories and lessons they’ve learned in the classroom to the test. For the seniors on the team, the car they build and the parts they are responsible for serves as their senior design project.
“When they leave, they don’t just have a test score or a report, but a product. Something they can show to potential employers,” says Brian Reding, a professor and one of the team’s faculty advisors. “We want to connect their senior design project with real engineering problems that will help them to grow as new engineers and find better jobs in the field.”
For more images, visit the Formula SAE Race Car photo album on our Flickr page.
IF YOU BUILD IT
The team, like many companies in the automotive industry, is divided into different units headed by various team managers, each one is responsible for a specific subsystem, such as the engine, brakes and suspension.
Daniel Oliva, a senior mechanical engineering major who serves as the group’s aerodynamic team manager, is responsible for helping design and build the body of the vehicle for a faster, smoother ride.
Oliva believes that as the team grows, FIU will have a greater presence in the automotive industry.
“We are hoping to put engineers into the field who are going to one day be designing your cars,” Oliva says.
Most of the construction and acquisition of parts and materials for the car takes place from the fall semester all the way through the spring, with track testing dates in April before traveling up to Michigan in May.
“Seeing the part you imagined come to life and then seeing the whole car when it’s complete and you step back with your teammates to look over your work are the two most fun pats of the whole process,” Sorondo says.
GOING OVER SPEED BUMPS
One of the main challenges the team has faced since its inception has come in acquiring funding and sponsors.
But FIU-SAE received a major bump when they was forged a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US LLC, formerly Chrysler Group LLC), which provides the team with funding, technical assistance and advising. The team also received an additional $8,000 from Chevron, a company interested in becoming a university partner, primarily to cover travel expenses.
Thanks to FCA US, the budget for this year’s vehicle more than doubled to $15,000. And their connection with FIU may soon extend beyond the machine shop out of which FIU-SAE works.
“They have been a great partner for us and thanks to our relationship with them, we are hoping to have an automotive track for engineering students and give an added value to their degree,” says Andres Tremante, a professor in the College of Engineering and the FIU-SAE team’s faculty advisor.
Two of FIU-SAE’s founding members, Ariel Vidal and Maria Quintero, currently work for FCA US in Michigan. They played a role in forging the partnership and still offer support and guidance for the team’s current members.
“We saw potential in these students and it was important for us to help them from a technical and financial standpoint,” Quintero said.
NEED FOR SPEED
At the Formula SAE Michigan competition, each car is judged in a series of pre-track events and evaluations – technical inspection, cost, presentation and engineering design – and track events, where the car is scored based on solo performance trials and high performance track endurance.
Last year’s car passed the competition’s rigorous technical inspection process for the first time, but due to some mechanical issues were unable to compete in the track portion of the competition.
With a budget of approximately $7,000 – some teams spend in the ball park of $100,000 – the team finished 95th in 2014, but returned to Miami with a better understanding for what they need to do to reach their goal of cracking the top 50 when they return to Michigan next month.
“When you go to that competition, it opens your eyes to what it takes to build a car,” Jean-Pierre Sorondo. “A lot of the ideas we got for this year’s car were from collaborating with judges and other teams while we were over there.”
Fresh off the experience, the team began analyzing statistical data from the competition to set performance goals and design a general concept for the new car.
With the 2015 competition looming, FIU-SAE hopes to prove that even though they are strapped with less resources and amenities than their well-established competitors, they can still hold their own.
“Never underestimate what a few dedicated people can do,” Reding says. “We go up against these titans and we can still rank without all those resources.”
For more information on the FIU-SAE team, visit their website.
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By Joe Delgado