Andrew Charters ('10) in Car 79 on the tilt table, one of several parts of the technical inspections.
As most members of the Carnegie Mellon community were finishing exams and packing to go home, a small team of dedicated students prepared Carnegie Mellon Racing's Car 79 for the 2008 Formula SAE Competition on May 14-18 held at the Michigan International Speedway near Ann Arbor, MI.
Many members of the team pulled all-nighters to see that the car was ready to race. A delayed and problem ridden build forced the team to pack an unfinished and untested race car on its way to Michigan. Arriving late on the night of Wednesday, May 14, the team worked under the light of motel issue lamps in order to get Car 79 ready for the static events and technical inspection the next morning.
The team rushed to the Design competition the next morning, with a car that was still unfinished and untested. The limited preparation of the team in the design event and marketing presentation yielded only 61st and 100th place finishes in the two events respectively.
Technical safety inspection further delayed the team in its efforts to race. Several small issues, particularly with driver fit and hardware security prevented the team from passing technical inspections on the first day of static events.
The following day, May 15, after the car was reinspected and passed for technical safety, the team found their next time consuming hurdle in the noise test.
Car 79 put out 118 dB of noise, many times louder than the 110 dB required to pass. After some restricting modifications of the muffler, the team barely passed the noise test, right at 110 dB. Lack of testing and a faulty throttle position sensor also prevented Car 79 from quickly passing brake test. The delays proved to be extremely costly as Car 79 missed its opportunity to compete in both the Skidpad and Acceleration events. As all seemed to be lost for Carnegie Mellon Racing and its efforts, Neel Nayak ('08) made a final brake test run, successfully locking all four wheels and allowing the team continue on to the Autocross event late that afternoon.
Jimmy Chow ('08) took the wheel of Car 79 in the autocross event and dealt with a car that demonstrated massive understeer problems in tight turning conditions. The unwieldy driving experience gave the team a minimum of points in the autocross and placed the team 75th in the event.
Every member of the team turned wrenches to re-adjust Car 79's suspension and replace faulty suspension dampers. Danny Chao managed to work with the Land & Sea dynamometer booth technicians to remedy the TPS problem and achieve a quick re-tune of the engine. These efforts neutralized the steering and engine problems of Car 79 for the final day of racing in the most difficult of dynamics events: Endurance.
The Endurance race, a 22 km race driven by two drivers, is the most failed event in the Formula SAE competition. The majority of cars that raced this year never finished, suffering catastrophic technical failures that forced them to forfeit the race. Carnegie Mellon Racing has only finished the endurance event once in its young seven years of history competing in the Formula SAE competition. The past success was with the Car 51 in 2005. Last year, the team failed to finish Endurance when Car 37 blew a radiator hose and subsequently overheated.
Jimmy Chow drove an extremely fast first ten laps of the endurance race, his driving ability allowed him to pass at least five other cars. An inadequate fuel pickup design forced Neel Nayak to drive a more conservative final ten laps as he dealt with fuel starvation problems as Car 79's fuel tank started to empty.
Tremendous anxiety built up in the stomachs of each and every member of Carnegie Mellon Racing as they watched Neel Nayak come down to the final lap of the Endurance Race. An entire school year of design, and build, countless problems and delays and thousands of hours of sleepless man hours led up to this final lap. Car 79 was expected to fail at endurance. There were so many delays in its build and so many problems encountered by this small team of students that it was expected that Car 79 would follow the fate of the majority of race cars in the endurance race.
The teams spirits were lifted and each team member cheered as Car 79 passed a waving checkered flag. For only the second time in the history of Carnegie Mellon Racing, the team's race car, numbered 79, finished the Endurance race. The driving of Jimmy Chow and Neel Nayak awarded Carnegie Mellon Racing a 26th place finish in the event.
The 2007-2008 season was a tremendous learning year for new members of Carnegie Mellon Racing. The problems encountered prevented a finishing position as high as the team had hoped for but the experience was a success for every member involved. The skills they learned and problems they solved in the course of the year turned a dedicated few Carnegie Mellon students into a team of engineers, designers, businessmen and leaders.