Previous Columns
"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Developing concepts and engineers for the future

by Gordon Kirby
As a devoted opponent of spec car racing, it was a delight to take in the wide variety of cars and power sources among the twenty competitors in last week's 5th annual Formula Hybrid International Competition at New Hampsire Motor Speedway. Every car was distinctive in both appearance and detail so that each car was entirely unique. Beyond that it was a pleasure to see the energy and enthusiasm radiating from many motivated young engineers hoping for careers in the auto or racing industries.

Run over four days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this year's Formula Hybrid International Competition was won convincingly by the team from Texas A&M University who were the victors in two of the four segments of the competition. Led by team advisor Dr. Make McDermott the Texas A&M team won the acceleration and autocross contests scoring a total of 871.2 points. Texas A&M's car is called 'Medusa' and is powered by a combination of a 32 hp Yamaha YZ250F gasoline engine and a 40 hp brushless DC electric motor assisted by a Li-Polymer accumulator. The car weighs only 620 lbs.

Second place was taken by Brigham Young University's 'Blue Fury' led by team advisor Dr. Robert Todd. Brigham Young's team won the presentation and endurance segments of the competition totaling 712 points. 'Blue Fury' is powered by a 24 hp Yamaha WR250R gasoline engine and a 40 hp Oxford YASA electric motor with a 259V Lithium Polymer accumulator.

Third overall and winner of the design segment of the contest was Sweden's Lund University led by team advisor Stefan Skoog. Lund's car is powered by a Honda CBR250 gasoline engine assisted by a 25KW 3-phase low voltage electric motor and Thundersky LFP40 accumulator. Lund's team and car totaled 691.6 points.

© Doug Fraser
The top six in this year's Formula Hybrid competition were completed by University of California Davis in fourth place, Dartmouth College in fifth and Canada's McGill University in sixth. Thirty-four teams from universities around the world entered this year's competition and twenty-one made it to NHMS.

Formula Hybrid is part of the wider Formula SAE competition which includes seven official contests around the world in the United States, the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and Brazil. An unofficial Formula SAE event was run in Austria last year and Hungary, Spain and China are said to be interested in staging future Formula SAE/Formula Hybrid events. A competitition is also run in Japan to the Formula SAE rules but thus far the Japanese have declined invitations to join the SAE's international organization. In total, more than 500 universities from fifty countries around the world curently are competing in Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid.

Michael Royce is a veteran Chrysler engineer who these days runs his own consulting company, Albion Associates. In the early nineties Royce worked in Italy with Robin Herd on the Chrysler-powered Lamborgihini F1 team and Royce and his wife Suzanne are veteran SCCA technical inspectors. Suzanne was chief tech inspector at the United States GP F1 races in Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Indianapolis as well as Indy's Moto GP.

Michael was chairman of the Formula SAE rules committee for nine years through September of 2009. Royce currently is Formula Hybrid's chief mechanical tech inspector and he and his wife have also worked the Formula SAE events in Australia and Italy as well as the UK's Formula SAE contest, known as Formula Student.

"We've done about sixty Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid events over the years," Royce notes. "The motivation and the reason we get involved is we believe it is one of the finest educational programs for young engineers that there is. Some people count the technical aspects but from my perspective what these young men and women are really learning is not hybrid systems or how suspensions work or that sort of thing. What the industry is really interested in are the softer skills that they cannot teach in the classroom--team building, team organization, project management and planning and budgeting."

Royce added that the human skills of learning to work together with people who have different ideas or opinions is a key element in Formula Hybrid.

"Conflict resolution is one of the important lessons," he observed. "Anybody involved in motorsports has an ego and when you get two people who've got different ideas on the design direction or have a packaging conflict then somebody has to have a way of resolving that. To get the teams here with a vehicle they need to have worked out those processes and those are the things and the people that the industry want to employ from OEMs and tier one suppliers on down within the auto industry."

© Doug Fraser
Royce said the industry is beginning the recognize that Formula Hybrid graduates have a running start on most engineering grads.

"The word is getting around that the people from Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid are the people they want to hire," he commented. "You had GM, Ford and Chrysler a this year's Formua Hybrid event wanting to sign people up. There are things that the professors cannot teach in the classroom. Working in Formula Hybrid gives the students about a two to three year flying start and it's stuff that the companies don't have to pay for."

Rob Wills, Formula Hybrid's chief electrical technical inspector, added to Royce's comments.

"Chris Farmer is one of my electrical inspectors and he was on the UVM Formula Hybrid team last year," Wills said. "He's now with General Motors in the center of the team doing battery management for the Volt."

Suzanne Royce believes one of the most important aspects of Formula Hybrid is teaching mechanical and electrical engineers to communicate and work together more effectively.

"I think the reason Formula Hybrid started was not only new technology but also a case that in Formula SAE the majority of engineers are mechanical engineers," Suzanne remarked. "The electrical engineers wanted something where they could get involved as well and Formula Hybrid was thought to be the ideal way to get the electrical and mechanical engineers to talk to each other. They've got to talk to each other in the real world of course."

Ms. Royce thinks the electrical engineers have assumed too much power in some of the Formula Hybrid teams.

"I think some of the teams have allowed themselves to be dominated by electrical engineers," she observed. "They need to get some of the mechanical engineers back at the center. They need to realize that collaboration is going to win."

Michael Royce said one of his aims is to make the mechanical aspects of the Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid rules identical. He is particularly focused on the cockpit dimensions and cockpit safety in general.

© Doug Fraser
"Within the mechanical rules we want to bring the Formula Hybrid rules in synch with the Formula SAE rules over the next couple of years," he commented. "This will include cockpit templates which have been in Formula SAE for three or four years. They were introduced in Formula SAE because cockpits were shrinking and the 95th percentile person couldn't get into the car. We saw drivers with their elbows outside and so on.

"Also, Kettering University did an impact test on a Formula SAE car in 2006 and the steering rack was right above the shins and would have broken the driver's legs. So we have a Formula One-style pass-through template that goes down through the cockpit. We get criticised because the cockpits are too big but we size them to fit the 95th percentile driver."

Added Suzanne Royce: "The drivers are able to do the egress more easily. They don't break their cars when they're trying to climb out of them. It got to the point where some of the scrutineers who are 95th percentile could not climb in and out of the cars."

Two Formula Hybrid teams--Embry-Riddle and Lund University--built carbon fiber monocoque chassis for this year's competition. Just like in full-size motor racing more of this contemporary technlogy is expected to slowly replace the traditional tube frame chassis.

"The last couple of years Formula SAE has included rules for monocoques in terms of proving out their structural equivalence with the testing they have to do when they submit their structural equivalency form," Royce said. "The base vehicle is a tube frame car and we specify what the tubing will be. But we allow them alternatives if they desire and a lot more teams in Formula SAE and now in Hybrid are learning how to use carbon fiber."

Royce pointed out that the suspension rules for Formula SAE and F-Hybrid are wide-open. A team can even design an active suspension system if it wishes.

"You can do any suspension on a Formula SAE car," he declared. "There are no restrictions. Ross Brawn and Pat Symonds are ambassadors for Formula Student in the UK and they will tell you, at least on the chassis side, the Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid rules are the most open of any formula in the world.

"A lot of the Formula SAE cars have got traction control and launch control and at least one car has had vectoring control. They wrote an SAE paper about it in 2008. There are a lot of smart guys doing power train electronics in Formula SAE."

Clearly, Formula SAE and Formula Hybrid have established themselves as serious learning tools for mechanical and electrical engineers hankering after careers in ther automotive industry or motor racing. Long may these thriving international university competitions continue.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved

Top of Page