When autocomplete options are available, use up and down arrows to review and enter to select.
Apply Give

Formula SAE team showcases fully built combustion engine car at competition in Michigan

Team members and faculty advisor Dr. Tate Fonville (back right) pose with their car at the Formula SAE Michigan event in May.


Mechanical engineering students work on modifications needed to pass technical inspection during the first day of competition.

The Liberty University School of Engineering‘s Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team was ranked the second highest in suspension in its first year to compete at Formula SAE Michigan, held May 17-20 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. Liberty’s team competed against 121 entries from collegiate programs across the U.S. and around the world.

“We had a world-renowned suspension expert telling all of these top-10 teams they need to come to Liberty’s paddock to see how to do it,” said mechanical engineering Professor Dr. Tate Fonville, the team’s faculty advisor. “We had people constantly coming by because the design judges were referring people to look at our car, with its great ideas and innovative solutions.”

The competition drew teams from as far away as Poland, Venezuela, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Teams work throughout the school year to design and manufacture vehicles that must pass inspection and be presented to judges before testing and racing them on the track. The overall winning car was from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne.

About 100 racing engineers employed in the automotive industry volunteered their time to serve as design judges as well as technical and dynamic inspectors.

“It was a brutally tough inspection process,” Fonville said. “There were a lot of GM and Ford people there and engineers from Tesla or NASA, and they brought very high standards.”

In previous years, Liberty’s Formula SAE team focused on designing an electrical vehicle for a separate competition, but was never able to complete a working design in time to enter Formula SAE Michigan. Last fall, the team switched gears to design and manufacture an open-wheel combustion engine vehicle. Various sub-team leaders worked on the powertrain, designing the intake, oil, and cooling systems; the drivetrain, which transfers the power from the engine to the wheels; and the electronic control systems. The aerodynamic and composite team designed and manufactured the body of the car.

Team members work on the engine and chassis.

The suspension system was designed last summer by rising senior Shelton Ware, who served as lead engineer, guiding the 42 members in designing, manufacturing, and testing the vehicle up through the competition. Ware is interning for the second straight summer with General Motors in Detroit.

Each of the core group of 16 Liberty students who attended the competition brought their own area of expertise.

“They were able to leverage their skill set to help solve the problems they were confronted with,” Fonville said. “We definitely prepared well to solve any problem that came up. They did a great job.”

The team made it through a couple of the dynamic inspections, including a tilt test that revealed a few fuel leaks when the vehicle was tilted up to 60 degrees the first time, and a sound test, in which the engine was revved up to 11,000 revolutions per minute and not allowed to exceed 110 decibels at full throttle. That forced the team to re-wire the engine to reach the required RPMs and to swap out the muffler.

“In every phase of the competition, we experienced potentially competition-ending hurdles,” Fonville said. “But the team was able to work really hard and troubleshoot on the spot, and that was probably one of the best experiences, because it revealed their character. They were put under pressure and they didn’t break.”

Liberty team members sit in a crowd of other Formula SAE competitors on the Michigan International Speedway.

Besides testing and modifying the vehicle they had labored on for the past nine months, the competition was a great opportunity to network with other student engineers and potential employers.

“Tesla and about 20 other companies were there, including Roush (Performance) and Cummins (Inc.), which designs engines for Ford and GM, which had a major presence at this competition,” Fonville said.

Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), which has been one of the team’s primary sponsors over the past five years and made the carbon-fiber nosecone for this year’s model, was also very visible in Michigan.

“They have helped us in manufacturing body panels and welding the frame, with sponsorship donations, and technical support,” Fonville said, noting that HMS representatives have visited campus to evaluate the team’s progress.

“A lot of what (HMS has) provided is in materials and in knowledge, capital and services,” rising senior team captain Isabelle Ambrose added. “They provided tools, gave us tours, and were very helpful and very kind in letting us use their resources. The same is true of our title sponsor, Lynchburg Machining, which has done $20,000-40,000 work for us for free and has been very helpful in designing and understanding the engineering process and providing feedback.”

After serving as a manufacturing intern for GM last summer, performing quality evaluation on its new electric car, Ambrose will be working in security and digitalizing the mechanical controls of Dominion Energy’s nuclear power plant in Surry, Va., this summer.

“Working in Formula SAE has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but the experience has been invaluable,” she said.

Overall, the team placed 99th and had the 66th best presentation (32.4), tied for the 58th best design (60), and the 51st best cost score (48.4). (View complete scores.)

“We had a lot of positive reviews in the design judging and came away with a lot of direction, and so we’re incredibly motivated to come back,” Fonville said. “They learned and now understand how to be more efficient. We are already working on the design of the next vehicle and looking for industry partners to help.”

Team members move their Formula SAE car between stations on the Michigan International Speedway track.
Chat Live Chat Live Request Info Request Info Apply Now Apply Now Visit Liberty Visit Liberty