Blazing speed, careful precision and impeccable design are all elements to consider when designing a race car, and nobody knows this better than Tiger Racing, the University’s own group of students who build race cars from the ground up.
The LSU Formula Student Automotive Engineering Club created Tiger Racing to compete in the Formula SAE Collegiate Design Series at the Michigan International Speedway this May. The competition features about 120 universities from around the world, all competing in various areas that test car designs, concepts and students’ understanding of the engineering behind their project.
Mechanical engineering junior and Tiger Racing President Matthew Richards said the competition features dynamic and static events.
“In the static events, you get judged on your presentation abilities, your cost-effectiveness of the car, your design of the car,” Richards said. “In the dynamic events, you have to actually race the car.”
The Tiger Racing team is made up of roughly 30 students from different disciplines, and each shares the task of designing and building the car from scratch, Richards said.
Students are allowed outside consulting from faculty and alumni, he said, but according to the rules, they can’t physically help with the build at all.
Tiger Racing’s car features a metal frame that sits low to the ground, accompanied by large tires and a 600cc motor taken from a midlevel street bike, said mechanical engineering senior and Tiger Racing Team Captain Chad Becht.
When completed, the car will weigh 450 to 500 pounds and have 80 horsepower, he said, and the gearing is set for the car to reach top speeds of up to 90 mph. The car is also capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds.
The car is still being built and won’t be finalized for a while, Richards said. However, there will be testing in mid-March that will include driving the car for the first time to allow the team to assess what’s working and what isn’t, he said.
University students have participated in the competition since the mid-’90s, when it began as a senior capstone project that paired engineering students in groups to build the car for a grade.
A recent initiative from several students has turned the program that was at risk of shutting down into an official club open to all University students.
“In the past years, it’s been [a capstone project], so only seniors were really part of building a car, and we’ve taken it out of that magnitude into a club where we can have students from across all curriculums,” Richards said.
According to mechanical engineering senior David Yingst, a chief engineer for Tiger Racing, the new club format will allow a transfer of knowledge from one year to another – something that wasn’t possible with the capstone project.
“We’ll be able to have the legacy of knowledge [and] improve on things from year to year instead of having to completely overhaul and reinvent the wheel every year,” Yingst said.
Becht said the car’s goal this year was simplicity, which can eliminate potential failures down the road.
Past teams haven’t done well, he said, because there was not enough time to test the car before competition and malfunctions inevitably occurred. Becht said the goal this year is to take a top-50 finish.
“It’s like a real-world engineering problem: you just have to figure out what your goal is and find a path to get to that goal,” Becht said.
Tiger Racing will have more than one driver to handle the car in the various tests during the competition, but Becht said the team has an ace driver on its side that may give it an advantage.
Mechanical engineering sophomore and Tiger Racing driver Steven Rougeou has two World Karting Association national championships under his belt, and travels across the country to compete in various races.
Rougeou went to Michigan in 2010 but didn’t get to drive the car in competition due to electrical issues, he said in an email.
Actually seeing the car function properly at the competition this year is Rougeou’s goal, and from there, he said, the team can build knowledge and experience for next year.
“With any racing, experience is the deciding factor between winning and losing and keeping the tires on the car. I’m not the best racer by any means, but when you practice and do it enough times, you figure out all the secrets,” he said.
Richards and Becht said the future is bright for LSU FSAE and Tiger Racing, and both said this year will be a starting point for the team to potentially grow into a world-class racing outfit.
“We’re a bunch of volunteers out here – no money, no grades – we’re just doing it because we love it,” Becht said.