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July 1, 2021

Never Idle: SVSU’s Cardinal Racing Team keeps rolling toward competition

A global pandemic could not put brakes on team’s progress

The COVID-19 global pandemic brought much of daily life to a screeching halt for many in the past year, but Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal Racing Team maintained its forward momentum, preparing for SAE International’s Collegiate Design Series (CDS) Formula SAE® competition. Now, more than a year after the 2020 competition was canceled, the team is gearing up for the Formula SAE (FSAE) validation event at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS), Brooklyn, July 7-10.    

“Having last year’s competition scrapped was very hard because it was the last year for a large part of the senior members on the team,” said Edward Tomczyk, a mechanical engineering major from Grand Blanc who is this year’s team captain. “We did have our car driving before lockdown. From what I saw we were one of the only teams with a running car before lockdown. This made it very nice because we got to hit this year with a running car. We got more testing and driving time on this car than any other car we have ever had. The downside is that these cars have a very short life span and we have had to do a lot of maintenance and fixes that we don’t usually have to worry about.” 

Brooks Byam, SVSU professor of mechanical engineering who serves as the racing team's faculty adviser, added, “Fortunately, the team was competition-ready before everything went into lockdown. There was a design team working on a project through the winter and spring 2020 academic terms. So, there was progress being made during that time, specifically on the engine.” 

While this year’s team may have had a jumpstart on the car, the team members have worked hard to overcome a significant learning curve.  

“Almost every person on the team had no experience working on this type of project,” Tomczyk said. “This car is built by a bunch of students with very limited experience, including some with none. Everything goes wrong at least once, sometimes all at the same time. But if you have the drive and creativeness, what I like to call an ‘any means necessary’ attitude, there isn’t a problem that cannot be fixed.”  

In addition to Tomczyk, the team includes: 

  • Ethan Brown, a mechanical engineering major from Kimball, Michigan. 
  • Iain Bukowinski, of Birmingham, a mechanical engineering major 
  • Julia Carvey, of Farmington, a graphic design major 
  • Taylor Colletti, a mechanical engineering major from Troy 
  • Ethan Jones, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, a mechanical engineering major 
  • Sean McClary, Saginaw, an electrical engineering major 
  • Tobias Pfeiffer, Grosse Ile, majoring in mechanical engineering 
  • Spencer Shaefer, a mechanical engineering major from Bay City 
  • Ben Stull, Goodrich, a mechanical engineering major 
  • Edward Tomczyk, Grand Blanc, a mechanical engineering major 
  • Michelle VanHautte, a mechanical engineering major from Saginaw 

Before the pandemic hit, SAE competition season was in May. To comply with COVID-related restrictions, this year’s competition has been split into a “knowledge” event and a “validation” event. The knowledge segment was held, virtually, in March and included business, cost and design. The validation event consists of technical inspection and the dynamic events, acceleration, endurance, autocross and skid pad. 

“Having the knowledge event online gave a very interesting structure to the season,” Tomczyk said. “The ability to not have to worry about the static events at competition is extremely helpful, but it made the design event hard, because we were not standing next to the car we were being judged on.” 

When the team hits the MIS track in July, Byam is cautiously optimistic about its chances. “We feel about the same as we usually do,” he said. “There are about 70 teams competing this year compared to the usual 110 or more.” 

Byam has good reason to be optimistic. Since becoming the team’s adviser in 1998, he has steered it toward continual improvements, creating a culture of success and building an outstanding reputation in the FSAE college circuit. While competition has grown steadily over the years, expanding to include international teams, Cardinal Formula Racing has held its own, recording the highest finish for exclusively undergraduate teams for five consecutive years.  

Cardinal Formula Racing has placed in the top 20 five times overall: 6th place in 2002, 8th in 2005, 14th in 2008 and 18th in 2010. The team placed 19th in 2019. 

Whatever the outcome of this year’s event, the Cardinal Formula Racing experience delivers positive results for the students.  

“I have gained more from the team than I could have ever imagined,” Tomczyk said. “The number of résumé skills I have gained will help me through my entire engineering career. Many automotive-based, racing job applications specify ‘Formula SAE experience preferred.’ FSAE alumni have a great advantage in the job market.”