The faculty adviser for the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinal Formula Racing team says hard work, dedication and teamwork could propel this group to a strong finish at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series later this week at Michigan International Speedway.
Then again, one bad break could undo all of that.
“This is a sophisticated race team, and we are prepared and we are ready,” said Brooks Byam, SVSU professor of mechanical engineering and the team’s adviser since 1998. “Sometimes, though, it can come down to racing luck.”
Byam and last year’s team learned that the hard way when a 10-cent oil line broke during the final day of the annual competition. The team still finished in 26th place out of 110 institutions – the highest of any exclusively undergraduate team – but likely would have finished in the top 10 if not for the malfunction, he said.
“We were so unbelievably close, it was heartbreaking,” Byam said.
This year’s team hopes to combine last year’s performance with better luck when the annual competition kicks off again at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan May 11-14.
Recognized by his peers, Byam received the Society of Automotive Engineers Carroll Smith Mentor's Cup in 2013, an award given to one faculty member annually who advises college formula racing programs.
Teams from higher education institutions across the globe attend the series, which features multiple competition categories such as endurance, acceleration, autocross, cost, presentation, and skid pad. The scores from each category determine an overall tally.
The defending overall champion was Austria-based Graz University of Technology, whose students for the last six years have stayed in SVSU housing facilities in the days leading up to the competition.
The hospitality allows Byam and his students a sneak peak at the competition.
“I have a hard time sometimes believing that students built these,” Byam said. “These look like professionally-built cars. The competition is unbelievably stiff.”
Despite last year’s setback, SVSU recorded the highest overall finish among institutions without a graduate program in engineering, thanks to top 15 showings in categories such as acceleration, autocross, cost, presentation, and skid pad. The oil line break happened during the endurance competition.
The 26th-place overall finish was the fifth-best all-time showing for SVSU’s team. Four times Cardinal Formula Racing hast placed in the top 20 overall: sixth place in 2002, eighth in 2005, 14th in 2008 and 18th in 2010.