Over the past year, a Cal Poly team of students has built and raced a motorized car, spending 10,000 hours combined working on their project.
They assembled a vehicle from the ground up that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in a few seconds.
The team placed 36th out of 80 teams in a June competition held in Lincoln, Neb.
Next year, team members hope to do even better — with a goal of finishing in the top 10 percent.
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And they plan to construct a 350-pound vehicle that’s nearly 100 pounds lighter than this year’s car through better engineering.
This year’s vehicle has the look of a professional race car, but it has a much smaller body, at 60 inches long and 47 inches wide.
“We have leaders, designers and manufacturers,” said John Waldrop, the team’s leader and one of the team’s drivers in events. “It’s a place where we can apply what we learn in class, so that when we make it out into industry we are ready to go from day one.”
The team is called the Formula Society for Automotive Engineers and consists mostly of mechanical engineering students. Some use the program for senior project credit. Teams have existed at Cal Poly for more than 20 years.
Cal Poly has a separate team called the Baja Society for Automotive Engineers that builds off-road vehicles.
The formula program is funded through donations of parts, money and about $10,000 in backing from Cal Poly. The team will need to raise about $25,000 to travel to Lincoln in 2013.
As they tinker with suspensions and brakes, team members are also mastering their driving skills because “a reliable, decently fast car with a fantastic team and driver will always beat the fastest car with a so-so team and driver,” said John Rappolt, the team’s technical director.
This year’s drivers included Waldrop, who has go-karted since he was little, as well as students Matt Hagan, Ian Hoffman and Kyle Chatha.
Those who join the team generally have a passion for racing and tinkering with high-performance vehicles.
“I remember when we first got the engine in the car with the drive train all hooked up,” Rappolt said. “It was 4 in the morning on a Saturday. We fired the engine and watched the wheels spin for the very first time. It was such an awesome experience, and I will never forget it.”
For more information about the program, go to the website www.calpolysae.org.