UConn’s Formula SAE team is our very own slice of F1


One of our college’s best-kept secrets is just 15 minutes away from UConn’s main campus in a depot building. The UConn Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team meets three days a week to design, fabricate and assemble their own Formula SAE racecar. Formula SAE is a collegiate version of Formula 1-3 and challenges students to develop a racecar within a nine-month time frame and then take it out to compete at the Michigan International Speedway. For fans of engineering, racing or marketing, this might be one of UConn’s best clubs.  

I recently sat down with Abhiemanyu Sukumaran, an eighth-semester mechanical engineering major and a driver who works with sponsors to procure funding or manufacturing for the students.  

“The club is composed of roughly 120 due paying members and 40 sponsors who collaborate with each other. While a lot of our students are mechanical engineering students, all majors are welcome and encouraged to participate,” Sukumaran said. 

 After the unveiling of the car and livery in late March, the team will continue to test the car until the competition in mid-May, where 40 students will travel to Brooklyn, Michigan to compete for a week.  

The main events that take place over the week include autocross, endurance, figure eight and drag racing. These events are designed to test the reliability and performance of the car under high and low-speed conditions. Each event placement is awarded using a point system that factors in the documentation on various aspects of the car like schematics and cost proposing. There’s no cap on the budget for Formula SAE, but more money doesn’t always mean a better car. 

The amazing thing about Formula SAE is that it takes place all year round but most of the work is done by December. This group of students works tirelessly to improve on every iteration of the car and using software such as Siemens NX, they’re able to do aerodynamic and rigidity testing all on the computer. Siemens is actually one of the main sponsors of the team, so the software that would normally cost $40,000 is given for free instead. 

The scope of the building facility is far larger than what one would expect for a student-run club. Not only does the facility include a full machining shop for all the student’s needs, they actually create carbon fiber parts in-house. Carbon fiber is known for its lightweight yet rigid structure and is one of the most expensive customizations you can add to any car. This same material makes up the side panels of the car along with the wing and nose cone.  

Powering the car is a Yamaha R6 motorcycle engine that was rigorously tested in the largest water-based dyno I’ve ever seen. That same engine is paired with the stock transmission mated to a floppy paddle gear system that allows the driver to shift with two paddles behind the steering wheel. The four chosen drivers are also trained on a simulation rig set up in the cockpit of an older model to help them work on their driving skills. 

Luka Ligouri, another eighth-semester mechanical engineering student, is one of the drivers for the team and sheds some light on how the events work: 

“For every main event, there are two drivers so I drive skidpad and acceleration, and then another driver drives the same events on our team. But a driver can only drive two events to avoid teams from abusing their best driver and also to prevent the driver from getting fatigued”  

This system is not unlike other sports competitions that seek to allow a wider variety of competitors to participate instead of using the same people. What makes this even more impressive is that the Formula SAE car can top out at 80 miles per hour; when you’re sitting less than six inches off the ground it takes nerves of steel to drive something like that. 

There’s far too much for me to cover in one article and this is only scratching the surface of how complex the process gets. For a person who’s a fan of cars or racing, this is like being a kid in a candy shop. Everywhere you look there’s something going on and the community surrounding this team is truly impressive. Student involvement varies, but whilst I was there, there were no less than 40 students. If it’s been your dream to be a part of a racing team, Formula SAE can bring that to reality. 

For information on how to get involved go to: https://www.uconnformulasae.com/ 

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