Powering through adversity, Saginaw Valley State University's Cardinal Formula Racing Team again secured its place among the world’s elite, earning one of its best finishes ever in an annual competition against many of the top engineering students from across the globe.
For the fourth consecutive year, SVSU scored the highest finish among exclusively undergraduate programs at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series May 9-12 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Overall, SVSU's team finished No. 24 out of 120 competitors. It marked the fifth-best finish in the program's 20-year existence.
“I'm really blown away by the students on this team,” said Brooks Byam, SVSU professor of mechanical engineering and the team's adviser since 1998. “They are just phenomenal.”
Byam said the team displayed gritty determination during the competition, and especially in the days before. After the team's Indy-style race car's primary engine failed less than one week before they departed for the speedway, the students worked around the clock to prepare the backup engine for use in the vehicle while simultaneously building a new backup engine.
That work was ongoing during the competition, Byam said. During the first day of racing, one of the students drove to Kalamazoo to pick up engine parts. When he returned, the team continued to engineer the vehicle's backup-to-the-backup engine.
Byam attributed their strong work ethic to good leadership, including co-captain Kameron Carey, a mechanical engineering major from Saginaw.
“The team picked up a lot of his traits, which is the sign of a good leader,” Byam said. “His attention to detail is what really helped us get the finish we got.”
That finish placed SVSU second among the 13 Michigan schools that competed, ahead of Michigan Tech, Michigan State, Kettering and others. The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor finished 17th overall.
The teams that placed in the top 5 overall hailed from outside of the United States. University of Stuttgart, from Germany, finished No. 1. Of the United States-based teams, SVSU placed No. 11 overall, besting national programs such as Duke, Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Penn State.
Byam said the level of competition has increased substantially over the years as more international teams enter the fray. The Collegiate Design Series remains an exceptional educational experience for participants, he said.
“There's no other competition like this that better prepares our engineering students” he said. “It helps you, even years after you graduate. The camaraderie, the learning, the adversity – the experience just keeps paying you back.”
The Collegiate Design Series' final standings are determined after combining scores from a series of competitions in categories such as design, cost, endurance and acceleration. The SVSU team's highest placement in an individual category was No. 7 in fuel efficiency.
“I was thrilled with that,” Byam said.
Byam has advised the team for 20 years. He was the 2013 recipient of the Carroll Smith Mentor's Cup from the Society of Automotive Engineers, the top honor given to faculty who advise college formula racing programs.
The four times the program finished better than in 2018 happened in 2002 with a 6th-place finish, 2005 with an 8th-place finish, 2008 with a 14th-place finish, and 2010 with an 18th-place finish. Twice, in 2008 and 2014, SVSU built the fastest college race car in the world, winning the acceleration category.