Pitt builds car, competes


Some people dream of having a car that performs like a sports car. Here at Pitt, a team of… Some people dream of having a car that performs like a sports car. Here at Pitt, a team of students have built a car that can reach speeds of 100 mph and can accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds.

This weekend, Pitt’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competed against 140 other schools from 14 countries in Detroit to see who built the best car.

The team came in 47th overall out of 140 participating teams. Carnegie Mellon University, with their own team, finished 60th overall.

According to the Formula SAE Web site, the competition is a chance “for SAE student members to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars.”

The competition is held at the Michigan Proving Ground in Detroit, a Ford company test facility, over the course of several days.

There are a couple of “static events” such as car design and business presentations. There are also four “dynamic” events, where judges analyze the performance of the car.

There is acceleration, where the driver has 75 meters to show what speeds the car can achieve in that space. Pitt’s team placed 22nd.

The skid pad event forces the driver into two left-hand circles and two right-hand circles to judge the car’s turning and handling abilities. Pitt placed 22nd.

The autocross event judges the overall performance of the car over a one kilometer track. Pitt placed 21st.

The endurance event tests the ability of the car to cover 22 kilometers in two separate segments of 11 kilometers in two different directions. The team has to cover the 11 kilometers, turn off the car and switch drivers in order to continue.

That was where Pitt’s Formula SAE team got into trouble. The car would not restart. The endurance event accounted for 400 points of the overall score of 1,000, which is what caused the team to finish lower than it might have.

Despite this, Justin D’Antonio, a team captain and business manager for the club, said that finishing in the top 25 in the other three dynamic events was difficult to accomplish, especially since the team was young.

“To have a lot of young people and to build a completely new car and show up in Detroit and pull out that kind of showing was a really great achievement,” D’Antonio said.

D’Antonio estimated that about 90 percent of the car was made or modified by Pitt students.

Even though many on the team are engineers, like D’Antonio, there are also people in different fields of study who help the team prepare the car for competition.

The club, which meets at least once a week throughout the school year, has to evaluate last year’s design and decide how they will build their next car. This year they decided not to use last year’s car.

Bill Slaughter, an associate professor of engineering at Pitt, and the Formula SAE organization faculty adviser said that they started over with a different idea for the new car.

“This year they started with a clean slate,” Slaughter said. “It was a completely new design.”

“It’s almost like boot camp for racing engineers,” D’Antonio said. But he added that the year was a fun one for the club, and even though there was a lot of work, they still had a chance to have fun.

“It’s easy to do something hard when you’re having fun.”