Hope College Formula Racing earned a top-10 finish in the Formula SAE competition held at Michigan International Speedway earlier this month.

The college’s team earned 9th place overall out of the 45 teams participating in the competition, held on Wednesday-Saturday, July 7-10.  Among the events (listed six paragraphs below) that make up the score, Hope placed 1st in fuel economy. The team also won the Cummins Innovation Award for its design of the car's adjustable pedal system.

In addition, the team was the first to pass the initial visual inspection on Wednesday and the first to pass the dynamic technical inspection on Thursday (the latter of which assessed qualities such as tilt, noise and braking).  The latter inspection is particularly rigorous — five of the 45 teams didn’t pass and couldn’t compete in the subsequent events.

Staff advisor Carl Heideman noted that the response to the team itself was even more gratifying than the statistical outcomes.

“Many volunteers and sponsors/recruiters approached us and complimented the team's organization and culture,” said Heideman, who is director of process and innovation at Hope. “One of the recruiters told me that they had highlighted Hope as a team to watch.”

This year’s event operated with a reduced number of participating teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The competition usually hosts 110-120 teams from around the world.

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 — are 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 2019, 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.  Hope finished 30th out of 109 teams at Michigan International Speedway in 2019.  The team was prepared to compete in 2020, but the competition was canceled.