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University Engineers Accelerate Their Development at Formula SAE

The smell of burning rubber and revving engines filled the air at Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne last December, as 30 teams of students from top universities across Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States of America descended on the race track to compete in the Formula SAE 2015 competition.

University of Adelaide Car
Image: Adelaide University Motorsport

The world of motor sport is often portrayed in the media as multi-million pound, high-speed cars being driven by superstar drivers who enjoy nothing more than dousing each other in expensive champagne on the podium to celebrate victory. However the truth is that behind the glitz and glamour there is always an extremely hard working team of mechanics and engineers with unquestionable ability who are tasked with ensuring the safety of both man and machine from design to inception and beyond, whilst pushing the boundaries of performance.

Formula SAE is a student design competition that was started in 1979 and was initially modelled on a similar student design competition called Baja. Following a number of failed attempts and some rule changes to increase the scope of the project the Formula SAE series was born. There are now 11 competitions around the world including the United States of America, Germany, UK, Brazil and Japan. The Australasian competition began in 2000.

The premise of the SAE’s competition is that a fictional company is developing a prototype small open wheel race car, with a maximum 600cc engine, which is targeted for the non-professional weekend racer. The teams of students act as a consultancy firm, and are tasked to bring their best design to the competition, where it is comprehensively compared against competitors. 

The design and fabrication of these small open wheel race cars is guided by the Official Formula SAE rules which ensure safety as well as promoting ingenuity amongst students.

With the engineering job market becoming increasingly competitive students have an opportunity to put their heads above the parapet and show some of the top names in the industry what they are capable of achieving with just a fraction of the budget available at the upper echelons of the sport.

The beauty of the competition also exists in the sportsmanship on display, with competitors seeing themselves as part of a wider collaborative team sharing ideas, tools and working spaces despite a clear professional rivalry on the track.

As part of the competition, cars are judged in two broad categories; static events and dynamic events.

In static events there are four categories where teams are awarded points:

Engineering Design - This requires both the submission of a design report detailing the main criteria of how the car was designed, and a detailed technical presentation at competition.

Cost - This requires both the submission of a cost report detailing based on tables of standardized parts and manufacturing procedure the total cost of manufacturing your car, with a presentation also required at the competition.

Presentation - This involves a presentation to a panel of executives to explain the business case for your detailing how it best suits the demands of the amateur, weekend racing market.

Technical Inspection - This involves 4 tests; rules compliance, noise test (vehicles must be no more than 110dB), brake test (ensuring all wheels have adequate braking force to lock), and tilt test (ensuring the car in stable in high lateral acceleration and that no fluid systems leak). These tests are in place to ensure that the car is safe not only for the driver but also for the spectators. No points are allocated for this, but if you fail - the car does not race.

The dynamic events are used to test the actual performance of the car and include:

Acceleration - A 0-75m straight line test of your longitudinal acceleration.

Skid pad - A figure-8 course to evaluates the cars constant-radius cornering ability.

Autocross - Single, timed laps on an auto-cross (tight turns, penalties for cone hits) style course to evaluate the cars maneuverability and overall handling characteristics.

Endurance / Fuel Efficiency - The main event. 22km of the autocross circuit, with a driver change mid-way as a test of the vehicles' (and often drivers'!) reliability and endurance. A fuel economy score is determined from your fuel-use during this event, and is allocated a large number of points to reward designs that are both fast and efficient.

The 2015 event was won by reigning champions and RS Components partnered Monash University, who won the competition for a sixth consecutive year with an impressive points total of 894.6 ahead of rivals the University of Melbourne.

For a full results breakdown please click here.

RS Components proudly sponsors a large proportion of the teams at Formula SAE Australasia through a programme that supports the engineers of tomorrow with both electrical and electronic components.

To find out more about the RS Components programme and your eligibility if you are taking part in the 2016 competition please visit  

For more information on the Formula SAE series please visit 

I am a 32-year-old tech lover, self-confessed geek and football fanatic! When I am not playing with the latest gadget you will often find me watching my favourite TV shows including Game of Thrones, Young Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory. Feel free to follow me on Instagram @robbiedunion or Twitter @robbiedunion
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