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Students Put Rose-Hulman Back on Track with Competitive Racer for Formula SAE

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Students Put Rose-Hulman Back on Track with Competitive Racer for Formula SAE

SAE Group

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 Engineers' competition.

"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 the world.

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 the contest.

"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 friends."

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 guru.

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 design.

"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 setting.

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 program here.

SAE car

On 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.