formula Group

A strong finish in international competition at Michigan International Speedway earlier this month has moved the student-run Hope College Formula Racing Team ahead in both the U.S. and world rankings.

Hope finished 30th in the May 8-11 event at MIS, which featured 109 teams from across the country and around the globe, most from comprehensive or technical universities.  The performance led Hope to the top 14 percent in the overall rankings based on all competition, placing the team 20th out of 148 in the U.S. and 84th out of 621 internationally.  The number of teams fluctuates, with the college previously in the top 18 percent having placed 26th out of 145 in the U.S. and 107th out of 601 globally.

The team’s staff advisor, Carl Heideman, noted that the results are especially gratifying given that the competitors include large technical institutions with strong automotive-engineering programs like the Universitaet Stuttgart in Germany (whose hometown hosts Mercedes Benz and Porsche) and very few liberal arts colleges.

“Needless to say, we’re feeling great,” said Heideman, who is director of process and innovation at Hope.  “Formula SAE is more than just an engineering exercise — it requires creativity and problem solving — and we’ve always felt that the broad, critical thinking mindset taught in the liberal arts could give a team a real edge.  Seeing these results really shows the value of our type of education.”

The concept behind Formula SAE is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car.  The prototype car is to be evaluated for its potential as a production item.  Each student team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules whose purpose is to provide standards while promoting clever problem solving.

The Formula SAE competition is not just a race.  Instead, the teams are evaluated in a series of static and dynamic events, including presentation, design, cost analysis, acceleration, cornering ability, maneuverability and handling, fuel economy and endurance.

The international Formula SAE organization provides a variety of design parameters within which the participants must work, but beyond that the teams make their own decisions.  Some of the parts are pre-fabricated, like the 600cc Honda motorcycle engine that provides the power.  Others — like the frame itself — have been developed by the group, starting with initial concept, and then moving through design and theoretical testing using the computer and ultimately to fabrication and construction.

Hope first participated in Formula SAE in 2010, competing with more than 100 teams from around the world at MIS.  The college returned to MIS in 2016, and also competed at Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2018.

Hope’s team placed 76th out of 102 teams in 2010, winning the William C. Mitchell Rookie Award in 2010 for having achieved the highest overall score among first time teams, and finished 77th out of 115 teams in 2016.  Hope also finished 11th in the international Formula SAE Lincoln 2018 competition in Nebraska out of 80 teams.  Also in 2018, Hope finished first out of 10 Great Lakes FSAE teams at the 2018 Lawrence Tech Grand Prix, and had the 49th fastest time out of 1,375 entries in the SCCA Solo Nationals autocross held in Lincoln, Nebraska.