Cal State Fullerton students build a car to compete in the Formula SAE race

In Features, Lifestyle, Student Body
This is a photo of three students working on their formula car.
(Gabe Gandara / Daily Titan)

Scraps of metal and car parts clutter the shelves of a garage in the heart of the engineering building. The steering wheels, tires and wings all once made up race cars built by the Cal State Fullerton Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team.

The group of engineering students build and deconstruct a car every year to compete against Formula SAE teams from other universities. The race is autocross style, meaning it takes place on a flat circuit with a couple of tight turns and long straightaways. The team will compete in one race in Lincoln, Nebraska and is also trying to race in Brooklyn, Michigan this year.

Joel Dulebohn has been on the team four years and is now the captain. For this year’s design, Dulebohn said the team is working on refining the 2016-2017 model. However, this doesn’t mean they can use last year’s race car. Formula SAE teams must build a completely new car for every competition, even if they want to use the same model.

“Since last year was a first-year car, some of the components were heavier intentionally just to make sure the car actually ran and that it was a safe design, so now we’re doing a lot of the fine-tuning and getting those components lighter,” Dulebohn said.

The car will have a steel tube frame holding up the 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 motorcycle engine, as well as the rear suspension and powertrain components. However, the cockpit will be made of carbon fiber with an aluminum honeycomb core to keep it lightweight and strong.

Each team that competes in the Formula SAE competition is allowed to make any type of race car as long as it abides by the rule book.

Their 2015-2016 model had a 2006 Yamaha YZF-R6S motorcycle engine and could go from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds.

Thomas Aranda, the powertrain lead, said the rule book is mostly for safety but it doubles as a way to ensure an even level of design between teams.

Dulebohn said one of the team’s goals is to make the design as light as possible, with a weight goal under 450 pounds. More importantly, they want to make sure their driver is safe.

The Formula SAE competition itself prioritizes safety, and in order to compete, each car must go through a tech inspection to ensure that the car meets regulations.

With this in mind, Dulebohn said that during the process of manufacturing the car, they do tests that include crushing the carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb to collect data on how much pressure they can take. Part of this includes manufacturing duplicate pieces that test the strength of the materials. To crush the pieces, they use a machine that measures how much stress the piece can take and how much energy it absorbs.

Philip Chiu, a team member, said each team has to submit a structural equivalency spreadsheet to determine whether or not the carbon material is strong enough to withstand any crashes.

Chiu is a part of the chassis team that works on the hard points of connection or attachment, mainly on the body of the car.

“Every single attachment point, I design it so it can take up the load. The last thing we want is the tires flying out or some components falling to pieces,” Chiu said.

The team has finished designing their car and is now in the manufacturing process, building everything they worked on in the fall.  

Almost everything in the car is made in-house, except for the engine, tires and wiring. Over the next few weeks, the pieces they’re building now, including the suspension and powertrain parts, will be assembled to create the prototype.

“One of the most fun parts about it is every day is a different challenge,” Dulebohn said.

While being on the team is a big commitment, the fun isn’t only for those with experience in engineering.

When Chiu was first invited to the team by one of the senior members last year, he was intimidated by the amount of hard work and the number of components he saw in the garage and didn’t understand, but it didn’t scare him off.

“I was pretty inspired by how people are willing to work hard. They have this mission they want to accomplish, which is to go to competition and get first place,” Chiu said. “Ever since then, I wanted to learn. I wanted to commit.”

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