Jayhawk Motorsports readies for two international competitions

LAWRENCE – More than 50 University of Kansas School of Engineering students are coming down the home stretch as they prepare two vehicles for two Formula car competitions this spring.

Up first is the Formula Hybrid competition, set for April 30 to May 3, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.  The team is also putting the finishing touches on a traditional combustion engine racecar in advance of the Formula SAE East competition, scheduled for May 9-12, at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

This marks the second year the Jayhawk Motorsports team has designed and built two cars for competition.  Lauren Lacey, a senior in mechanical engineering, is the team leader for the KU Formula car projects.  She heads up a group of 33 seniors in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering who are designing and building the car through a course as part of a capstone design project.  Another 20 underclassmen serve as volunteers.  Lacey said it’s a process that poses unique opportunities and challenges.

“It’s great working with all these different types of people and getting to see the results of hard work.  At the start of the school year when you realize that you have to design and manufacture two vehicles with a team of more than 50 people, it seems kind of daunting,” Lacey said.  “Now, I’m just really excited to see these cars work, run, test them, and then go for first at competition.”

As the team races to meet deadlines to test the cars before the competitions, a key detail is creating a sleek vehicle that’s as light as possible.

“We’re really focused on knocking down the weight.  We’re shooting for 445 pounds on the combustion engine car, and 450 pounds on the electric car.  Every pound we can drop means the faster we’ll be on the track.  We really think it will help our times in the autocross and endurance portions of the competition,” Lacey said.

Nearly 40 teams from six countries are registered for the Formula Hybrid competition, and more than 115 teams from nine countries are signed up for Formula SAE East competition.  Both contests challenge teams in four racing events.

The cars are tested on acceleration in a 75-meter drag race.  The autocross portion tests the team’s ability to race around obstacles in about 60 seconds with speeds reaching 70 miles per hour in the Formula SAE and 45 mph in Formula Hybrid.  Both competitions also have an endurance test, which is a large-scale version of the autocross competition on a 13.7-mile course.  Both competitions test fuel economy, though the hybrid competition limits the amount of energy the car can use.

Team members also are evaluated on how they present the details of their design.    The team must explain to a panel of experts the specifics of each car and why it’s better than the others at the competitions.  The group also goes through a mock sales presentation where team members must pitch how they’d get the cars out in the market.  In the Formula SAE competition, they are tasked with determining the costs to mass-produce the vehicle.

Lacey said a desire to gain leadership skills, not an overwhelming interest in cars, lead her to seek the job managing the design of both vehicles and overseeing the 50-plus team members.

“I really want to be in engineering leadership in my career, and I’ve learned so much doing this,” Lacey said.  “We’ve had our share of arguments, but in the end, we’re still friends, working together to accomplish this goal.  I’ve learned that it’s OK to have run-ins and conflict as long as it’s professional, and at end of day we’re still friends and still focused on doing what it takes to get first place in these competitions.”