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Students Put Rose-Hulman Back on Track with Competitive Racer for Formula SAE
July 22, 2011
Hard-working Team: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Grand
Prix Engineering team put well over 10,000 man-hours in developing
its formula race car for this year's Society of Automotive
"This is where the magic happens," Ross Kippenbrock jokes as he
opened the door to the workshop at Rose-Hulman Institute of
Technology's South Campus. Inside sat the Formula SAE racecar
that Kippenbrock and the rest of the racing team built -- from
scratch - during the 2010-11 school year.
The Society of Automotive Engineers' student chapter had long
been dormant on campus, with 1990 being the last time it was
represented at the Formula SAE competition. Now,
Rose-Hulman's Grand Prix Engineering (RoseGPE) team has once again
joined the nation's elite engineering colleges in the annual SAE
design challenge at the Michigan International Speedway.
A part of Rose-Hulman's Advanced Transportation Systems program,
Formula SAE tests students' abilities to research, design, build
and drive an open-wheeled race car.
The teams are judged not only on the car's performance on the
track, but also on the quality of the design and the students'
presentation of the project.
"I'm a big racing guy, so I've always wanted to do Formula SAE,"
said Kippenbrock, a 2011 mechanical engineering graduate.
Though the team began planning designing the car in the fall of
2009, the vehicle didn't take shape until 2010. "We went (to
the Formula SAE Michigan competition) last year just to
watch. Competing is a completely different animal," he says
of the competition which includes teams from colleges throughout
Rose-Hulman had a commendable first-year performance, placing
55th overall and ranking as high as 28th in
the skid pad category and 37th in the design
category. Kippenbrock estimates that the team would have
placed 29th overall had it not been for a leaking gas
cap which caused the car to be pulled from the endurance portion of
"Rose hasn't had a team in 20 years and it's pretty amazing that
we brought it back," stated club member Kent Schonberger.
Tom Ksandr earned the Formula SAE competition's outstanding team
member award for his contributions to the project. After
graduating in February, Ksandr stayed in Terre Haute for an extra
four weeks to help finish the car. Then, he moved onto his
job at Caterpillar.
Learning Lessons: Lots of vehicle testing went into Rose-Hulman
Institute of Technology's successful entry in the Society of
Automotive Engineers' formula race car competition.
The RoseGPE project is as much about the team as it is about the
competition, according to Kippenbrock. "We all started
for different reasons, but now I think we've all come to this point
where it's the team aspect of it and the friends we've made," he
said. "Towards the end, we were definitely doing 100-plus
hour weeks. We would wake up, go to the shop, work and
go to sleep -- sometimes at the shop. You would then repeat
that routine on the next day.
Kippenbrock added, "We all started for different reasons, but
now I think we've all come to this point where it's the team aspect
of it and the friends we've made. It's hard to see it being
better than this, when you get to design it with five of your best
While the SAE chapter has about 30 members, and took 22 students
to this year's competition, a core group of eight to 10 students
built this year's vehicle, logging what Kippenbrock estimates at
well over 10,000 man-hours in its completion.
"The competition gives us a rule book and we basically have to
design a car around that," stated Schonberger, the team's welding
He wasn't even part of the club at the start of the building
process. However, the mechanical engineering student, who
first learned to weld by making tent stakes for a Boy Scout camp
out, was recruited by Kippenbrock and others to join the team's
effort. He not only helped build the car, but he also was one
of the team's four drivers.
"I spent my summers traveling from racetrack to racetrack,"
stated Schonberger, explaining that his dad has participated in
SCCA road races for years.
One valuable aspect of the project has been the experience it
affords members, who not only design but then must build from that
"When I started, I didn't have much experience designing for
manufacturing," explained Kippenbrock, adding that racing club gave
him a hands-on opportunity not available in a standard classroom
Daniel Watson, the club's current president, had very little
automotive or metalworking experience when he transferred to
Rose-Hulman last year.
"This year I learned an incredible amount from building the
Formula SAE car," stated Watson, a mechanical engineering
student. "Not only do you learn about race cars and all the
things that they entail, but having to build the car requires more
knowledge than most would assume."
For 2011-12, the team hopes to trim 15 percent of the weight
from this year's car, while also designing the vehicle for easier
assembly and maintain.
"There are 120 teams that make something similar to
(Rose-Hulman's vehicle design), but the fact that a few guys on a
first-year team were able to build this on a limited budget is
pretty amazing," Kippenbrock commented.
Learn more about Rose-Hulman's Advanced Transportation System
The Track: Rose-Hulman's race car had a strong showing for a
first-year entry in this year's Formula SAE competition, placing
28th in the skid pad category.