Rutgers Formula Race Team Competes to Win

Building a racecar is one way to apply the engineering lessons taught at Rutgers SOE. 

Ely Nazar, a senior in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, says Rutgers Formula Racecar (RFR) is a way for students to further their education by applying engineering skills and principles. The fact that the team builds a racecar is immaterial – the team cooperates to create, nothing more or less.

“We could be building wheelbarrows and we would still be doing this,” he said. “It’s about this opportunity to learn, and it’s about doing so and working hard with a bunch of folks who feel the same as we do, who want to work hard, who want to learn more, who want to set themselves apart from the pack and really help themselves.”

The team functions like a proper company building a machine for a client. Their client is a local autocross driver, and the company is hired to build them a vehicle. They design the car using software and have subdivisions engineer the different components. One such sub-team might work on breaks, while another designs the chassis. There’s even a team dedicated to the driver and how they use the car.

“It really helps because instead of having everyone be in charge of everything, you have one person who’s leading the path for a sub-team,” Nazar said. “To further split it up we have a design lead and a manufacturing lead.”

Having each of these groups work together to create a car is important. The vehicle is going to be used in an actual race, and safety is paramount.

“You want to make sure the engineering principles are sound, you don’t want to shear anything during a heavy load because it can kill you,” he said.

The team meticulously designs and builds the car, and extensive tests are performed before competition. Everything from the brakes to the road conditions are checked, and special care is taken to account for the potential differences between the team’s testing ground and the competition’s racetracks. James Vertes, a MAE junior, said different factors included the temperature and road conditions among others, and that these factors all change from situation to situation. The team tests for biases every time they go out to their site. Vertes is in charge of the brakes on this year’s car. The reason it is so important for the team to check their vehicle’s safety is because they actually create the parts for it.

“We produce most of our own parts, about 90 to 95 percent,” Nazar said. “We have a machine shop in the garage, and one of our alumni has his own machine shop that we use as his tools are better than ours.”

They’ll design and simulate the car on a program and then use another one to design the parts. This second program can control the machines they use to build the components of the car, helping with this important aspect of the construction process. Based in a small building at the end of Allison Road on Busch, the team works with whatever they have.

“We get some funding from the Engineering Governing Council, and Dean Farris’ office gave us some money this year too when we asked for it,” Nazar said. “Most of our money comes from fundraising, we work two of the concession stands at football games.”

Sponsorships also help.

“We negotiate sponsorships from different companies,” he said. “Yamaha donated two engines to us this year after we reached out to them.”

Engines are some of the few components that the team does not build or design. Some teams have companies build custom engines while others just buy stock models, but no team builds their own. Some of the materials they work with are also donated, like carbon fiber for the body. The team uses the raw materials and tools they are given to design the most efficient, aerodynamic vehicle they can.

The purpose of this car is to compete and win in a competition held every May. RFR begins planning for a competition the day after the last one ends. Many of the returning members come in 40 hours per week over the summer, while putting in at least 20 during the academic year. This is on top of their schoolwork and social lives or jobs. New members are encouraged to put in at least 10 hours every week. Those who are dedicated to the team and to their work quickly earn the right to work on different aspects of the car and potentially work with it in action.

“There’s a strong sense of community within the team. We’ve all kind of had our friendships formed from blood, sweat, and tears. Before competition we don’t sleep for days at a time,” Nazar said. “Last year before competition I didn’t sleep for three days straight.”

“Before we really accept you into the team we have to see that you’re willing to put in the time.”

Matt Watts, a junior in MAE, said the team is much larger than it was even last year. Ultimately only a select few will make it to the competition though.

Right now there are around 100 members, more than tripling last year’s roster.

The competition itself is split into two different parts, each with different categories teams can earn points in. The static aspect of the event accounts for 325 possible points, split into “Business Presentation,” “Engineering Design,” and “Cost Analysis.” This is where the team explains what they did to design and build the car, and “sell” their vehicle to the client. Representatives from various companies attend and judge the engineering put into each car.

“People from SpaceX, Tesla, Boeing, Ford, all big names in industry send judges who try to pick apart your design,” Nazar said. “You have to defend it and show that you knew what you were doing when you designed it. We have a target cost that we’re trying to hit with the car, so we present that and we get judged on that too.”

The designs are also checked over for safety. The dynamic events account for 675 possible points and include testing the acceleration and ability to survive sideways motion, along with a technical course, fuel efficiency, and an endurance run.

“Endurance is usually two drivers, ten laps per driver with a three minute driver changeover,” Nazar said.

With 300 potential points, this part of the day is the most important. Up to 2/3 of the teams attending are unable to complete the 20 laps, so just finishing those puts the team in the top 33 percent.

Challenges with building the car come from the lack of time and space to properly create a car from scratch. Each team only has a year but because they’re students, they can’t put in the time and effort professional racecar creators do. Sometimes RFR will build a car from scratch, and sometimes they’ll just modify a previous design. No car ever looks the way it did the year before though.

“You can never build the perfect car so we’re always innovating, and the other teams won’t stop innovating so if you stop you’re dead,” Nazar said.

Despite the challenges and time commitment, Ely Nazar and the rest of his team enjoy what they do.

“You come in, you work hard, you make new friends, you get to drive a racecar. It’s good times.”