In my four years on USC’s campus I’ve parsed through my fair share of activities. I’ve bopped from playing on the Rugby team with a group of fantastic guys, to the Joint Educational Project (JEP) with some of the most philanthropic students on campus, and even helped start up a flying club with some friends. I wish I had limitless time to pursue all the clubs and activities that interest me, but my time is limited and I’ve whittled the many to a few activities that I really love. One in particular, that I’ve written about before, is the USC Racing Team. Why? Because We Build Racecars!
We learn loads of useful information in classrooms and leverage some of it to complete interesting projects, but engineering is so much more than group projects in classrooms. For me, the coolest part of engineering is when you implement the designs you’ve planned and get to put together your final product. And that is exactly what we do on USC Racing!
To preface, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is an international organization that hosts several Collegiate Design Series, where they challenge students across the globe to create the best vehicles within certain specifications. USC Racing is an Internal Combustion (IC) Formula team, meaning the cars we build use a traditional gasoline combustion engine and are built to function like a Formula 1 car. We take the car out to Lincoln, NE and race it against 79 other universities from across the Americas.
My Sophomore year I joined the Composites sub-team. On Composites we build the aerodynamic components of the car – front and rear wings, the side pods, nosecone and undertray – all out of carbon fiber (side note: I’ve always thought carbon fiber was one of the coolest materials because with a little bit of resin it goes from a floppy piece of cloth to a rigid piece as strong as steel). The components are crucial to the car’s success because they add downforce, allowing the car to grip the ground at higher speeds which in turn allows for more maneuverability. The thing is, every component we add increases the weight of the car and we’re trying to build a vehicle that weighs ~500 lbs. So, every element needs strong justification that the useful downforce outweighs the static weight and drag we incur. Learning how to do the analysis on our aerodynamics design as a Sophomore let me apply the math I was learning in the classroom to a real world problem and I was much better at my work for it.
But the car takes multiple sub teams to complete. We have the Powertrain sub team that designs the racecar’s intake, exhaust and all components necessary to making it go ‘VROOM’; there’s the Chassis sub team that designs and builds what is essentially the body of the vehicle on which everything else sits; the Electronics sub team that collects data from the car, ensures the engine is running efficiently and all sorts of other magic that I don’t completely understand; our Ergonomics team that will be ensuring the car fits the drivers and is highly functional; and finally my new main team, the Business team.
As President of the team my job this year has been to find sponsors and resources for our team. We don’t have the space or money to laser-cut steel, turn our hubs on a lathe with live action tooling, or mill our uprights on a 5-axis machine. Since we don’t have those resources on hand we export the work to other companies, and we find partners who will give us the materials we need for free or at a discounted price. Thanks to our work last year and this we’ve been able to give the other sub teams more leeway in their construction of the vehicle.
Not only is USC Racing my favorite club, but it’s the reason I got my internship at SpaceX this past summer. SpaceX loves the idea of students getting hands on experience on design teams in college, because when you’re actually making your design a reality you understand how difficult it is to design systems that are able to be reproduced. And SpaceX isn’t the only company that recruits out of our Formula SAE team. In fact, we get enough interest from companies that any student who puts in the time to be on the team and wants to have an internship or job receives one. Quite the stat!
Thanks for taking the time to read, until next time! Check out the pictures below for some cool pictures of our 2015 competition vehicle!