A Winning Formula - Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

A Winning Formula

Cal Poly Racing marked its 65th anniversary as a club this year with renewed vim, vigor and vroom — and a new formula for car sharing as it applies to manufacturing.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) student chapter is rooted in mechanical engineering know-how — and then some. With more than 60 members, the club reflects a broad spectrum of interests ranging from a variety of engineering disciplines to agriculture, business and the arts. It encompasses three SAE teams: Formula Combustion, Formula Electric and Mini Baja.

“We are the only team in California to have three running cars,” said Kathryn Webb, chapter president. “We design, manufacture and test everything from the ground up.”

A major innovation this year was to adapt a principle used by major car companies — platform sharing — for the club’s two Formula race cars. Working throughout the winter, the teams developed a single merged platform as the base for building both the combustion and electric vehicles. When completed, the vehicles shared the same front chassis but sported different rear subframes. The suspension, steering, brakes, ergonomics, aerodynamic and drivetrain were all on the same platform with minor configuration differences.

“Building two cars on the same platform is no small engineering feat,” said Webb. “The purpose was to reduce cost, enable us to build faster and give us more time for design considerations and other improvements. We feel the merger was a success and paves the way for more success in future years.”

The club’s best race in the national SAE collegiate competitions this year in was the Formula Combustion competition where they placed first in efficiency and were ranked the second-fastest U.S. car.

“We had an amazing Baja car this year, and would have been in the top 10 if not for a minor mishap resulting in a 20th place finish — but not before we posted the fastest lap time in the competition and saw how well the car performed overall. Next year our goal is to be in the top three,” said Webb.

“All of us mechanical engineering members are extremely passionate about what we’re doing. Our time in the shops is where we take off — attaching material learned in the classroom to real life. We get to apply what we’re learning in dynamics and thermal design to cars. What’s better than that?”

Other club officers include Junior Gonzalez, vice president; Dan Ash, events director; Toby Shirts, treasurer; David Vitt, secretary; Kyle Bybee, public relations director; Angel De La Torre, webmaster; Nathan Powell, quartermaster; Adam Menashe and Gina Ghiglieri, Formula SAE team lead, Ford Eimon, Formula SAE technical director, combustion; Kevin Ziemann, Formula SAE technical director, electric; Paul Swartz, Baja SAE team lead; and Connor Kingsbury, Baja SAE technical director. 

Webb noted that the team feels especially fortunate to have John Fabijanic, a mechanical engineering professor with a background in Formula One cars, as their advisor.

“Professor Fabijanic goes to all our testing dates, plus spends most of his weekends watching our cars and helping us brainstorm what would benefit the team and cars,” she said. “We’re known as one of the teams who test our cars the most — two to three times a week for the Formula cars; the Baja every weekend. In the fall, ‘Fab,’ as he’s known, serves as our toughest critic, with safety a major focus. He makes us keenly aware that if we don’t do our job right, we may be endangering someone’s life. He’s the best mentor we could ask for.”

Webb, who’s a Baja team member as well as president of both other teams, has plans in the coming year to make a 3D model of the Baja car to test in Cal Poly’s renovated wind tunnel, designed specifically to measure the aerodynamic efficiency of vehicles and aircraft.

“I do love cars,” said Webb. “I’m even more passionate about manufacturing. My dream job would be to run a shop — they’re amazing places. At Cal Poly it’s truly unique to have the access to machines shops that we have. I don’t know anywhere else that could match this for hands-on experience, breadth of collaboration and design opportunities.”


Related links:

Cal Poly Racing

Baja SAE competition results

Formula SAE Electric competition results

Formula SAE Internal Combustion competition results