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On a Roll

Oct 15, 2012

Posted by The Missourian Publishing Company : Wednesday, September 5, 2012 11:13 am.

Before Nick Schweissguth, Dutzow, and his Formula SAE teammates from Missouri University of Science and Technology brought their hand-built race car to Hockenheim, Germany, virtually no one there had ever heard of the Rolla, Mo., school or expected the team to be a contender. That’s changed now.


Schweissguth was the chief engineer of the Missouri S&T Team which competed for the first time in the Formula Student Germany race the first week of August.

Although the team didn’t win the overall competition, it took first place in the skid pad category (a figure eight course where cars can exhibit cornering performance) and finished fifth in autocross (where teams have four attempts to set the fastest lap time on a course with high-G corners, slaloms and straightaways).

Most importantly, though, the team’s car turned heads and made people sit up and take notice. “They didn’t expect us to do well because European race cars are engineered very well and the competition is stiffer there,” said Schweissguth.

“We came out of that earning a lot of respect from the Europeans. They didn’t know who we were before . . . we earned a lot of sponsorship opportunities. They noticed us, and they’ll be willing to sponsor us.”

This year was the first time Missouri S&T has sent its Formula SAE team to Germany for the European competition (Student Council funded the trip), but the school hopes it won’t be the last. Sponsors appear to be willing to bring the team back next year, said Schweissguth. The race in Germany was the third this year for the Missouri S&T team. Back in May they competed in Formula SAE Michigan at the Michigan International Speedway. There were 120 teams with 1,950 participating students from all over the world. The Missouri S&T team placed third for skid pad and third in autocross, and fifth place in business presentation. The team was looking to place in the top three or four for the Endurance category, a 22-kilometer closed-course time challenge involving a driver change in the middle of the race, but their car ended up breaking down with just two laps left to go.

“We ended up at 27th out of 105 teams,” said Schweissguth.

The team also brought home awards from the Formula SAE Lincoln in Nebraska — first place both in autocross and skid pad, fifth place in design and 19th place overall.

What Is Formula SAE?

Formula SAE is a student design competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers where engineering schools from all over the world have teams design and build a prototype formula-style car intended for the weekend autocrosser. Autocross, the Missouri S&T Racing webpage explains, “is a form of racing where a course is marked out with cones on a large flat lot. The average speed of an autocross event is generally around 40 miles per hour. As a result, the car isn’t designed around achieving a top speed, but rather being agile and able to accelerate and brake quickly.”

At competitions, the contest begins with static events even before the racing gets under way, said Schweissguth. Teams get points for engineering design, cost analysis and sales presentation. These are followed by the dynamic events where the cars are put on the track to race. There are five categories — skid pad, autocross and endurance mentioned earlier, as well as acceleration (try to achieve the fastest time in a 75m drag race) and fuel economy. All of the cars are built entirely by the students and not as part of a class or for a grade.

“It’s entirely extracurricular, to enhance your skills and to have fun,” said Schweissguth, who was a member of the Missouri S&T Formula SAE team since he began taking classes there in fall 2007.

Schweissguth, son of Mike and Nancy Schweissguth, Dutzow, and a 2007 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, graduated from Missouri S&T this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. He can still remember the day he toured the Rolla campus as a high school student and saw one of the team’s past race cars on display outside of the team’s work building.

“I knew that was a project I would like to work on,” said Schweissguth.

At Missouri S&T Formula SAE is just one of the teams in the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC), a department tasked with supporting 13 extracurricular student design teams with facilities, machinery, and technical, administrative, public relations and fundraising assistance.. There also are teams for a solar car, solar house and human-powered vehicles, to name a few. The Formula SAE team is open to all Missouri S&T students and is touted as a way to combine things students learn in the classroom with hands-on experience.

“They learn project management, marketing, budgeting, communication and other vital management skills,” a Missouri S&T pamphlet on the Formula SAE Team reads. “Students . . . become better prepared for their professional careers as engineers.”

It also is a great addition to a resume, said Schweissguth, not to mention the contacts and networking opportunities that come with the competitions and interacting with sponsors, many of which are places the students dream of someday working.

They Built It

The 2012 team had 25 students, freshman through senior and one graduate student, plus a faculty adviser. Building the car is a year-long process. It gets under way with the new school year. The new group leaders have already started the design for the 2013 car, Schweissguth noted.

“We build a new car each year, but the design is a progression from years past,” he commented. “Every five years or so, though, we go with an entirely new platform.”

About 75 percent of the car is manufactured directly by the students — the frame of welded steel tubing, the suspension system . . . The other 25 percent is made up of purchased components that the students install and fine-tune. Typically the car is built enough by Christmas that the team can begin test driving it, said Schweissguth. They actually take the car to facilities all around the country to conduct a series of tests.

“We go to a wind tunnel owned by Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, and we go to Akron, Ohio, to test the tires because Goodyear sponsors our tires,” said Schweissguth.

The tires are one of the most important features of the car, Schweissguth noted, explaining that because almost all of the tracks in the contests have turns, how well the car grips the track is key to its success. Many people may be surprised that the design of the car includes a large spoiler on the front and rear, but those actually help keep the car’s performance, said Schweissguth.

“They create a down force so the car has more traction and better handling,” he explained.

“Without those wings the car would be slower on the tracks — faster in a straight line — but we need them because we need to make turns.”

Serving as chief engineer of the 2012 Missouri S&T team meant Schweissguth oversaw the entire design of the car and was responsible for managing the group’s work.

“You have to run it like a business,” he commented. “The students are volunteers, but you assign them duties.”

The team has four officer roles — chief engineer, team leader, business leader and secretary.

All of the team members are devoted to working on and improving their car. They treat it like a full-time job. “Most of us don’t go home on weekends ever and we work on it most nights of the week,” said Schweissguth, who described the work as “satisfying.”

“To know that you’re doing something worthwhile, not just going to a party,” he remarked.

Local Sponsors

Most of the sponsors for the Missouri S&T car are big names like Ford, Goodyear, Boeing, GM and Hunter Engineering, to name just a few. But there were several local companies that supported the team — Parker Hannifin, Sporlan division, and Ziglin Signs.

“Parker gave us funding, and Ziglin handled the painting and all of the graphics,” said Schweissguth.

‘We Gave Them a Taste of American Engineering’

Getting the race car to Germany involved packing it in a wooden crate 2 1/2 times it size along with all of the tools and parts the students thought they would need during the competition. It was sent to Germany by airplane, but is returning to the States by boat. The team is proud of its performance in Germany, regardless of how many awards it brought home.

“Our goal was to make an impression,” said Schweissguth. “We knew we had a fast car . . . we were able to compete with them and turn a lot of heads.

“We gave them a taste of American engineering.”

Click here to see a video of the final event (the endurance category) at the Formula Student Germany race.

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