The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Formula-style race car competing this week in Lincoln, Neb., is the unique collaborative work of students from two diverse programs on the IUPUI campus – motorsports engineering and furniture design.
The vehicle is one of more than 90 cars entered in the Formula SAE student design competition organized by SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Students from the motorsports engineering program in the Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at IUPUI designed, built and tested the majority of the IUPUI race car. However, the bodywork is the team work of motorsports students and students in the furniture design program of the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI.
“This inventive collaboration is a perfect example of the relevance of art and design to a broad array of applications beyond ‘fine art.’ It also serves as an example of the opportunities afforded to students at IUPUI by faculty who are more than willing to work across school boundaries with their colleagues,” said Glennda McGann, assistant dean for development and external affairs at Herron.
Pete Hylton, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is director of the motorsports engineering program at IUPUI, the first U.S. university to offer a bachelor’s degree in motorsports engineering.
Furniture craftsman Cory Robinson, associate professor and chair of Herron’s fine arts department, directed the Herron students working on the race car project.
“It was very interesting to see the kinds of machines that they use to make furniture….and to figure out how to translate our needs to their equipment,” said Nikky Saxon, a motorsports engineering student who worked on the race car project. “The Herron students were very helpful and easy to work with. It was a great experience.”
According to the description on the SAE website, the concept behind Formula SAE is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car for a non-professional weekend autocross racer. Each collegiate team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules set up both to ensure onsite event operations and promote clever problem solving.
Motorsports engineering students developed the IUPUI race car’s basic shape using 3D computer modeling to fit a shape around the chassis, including an aerodynamic underbody which provides ground effects. The shape of the underside of the body creates down-force by channeling the airflow through a venturi shaped passageway, similar to what is done on IndyCar and Formula One racecars.
The IUPUI engineering students handed off their design to the Herron students who went to work using their school’s gantry mill — typically used to shape wood for furniture design projects — to shape the pieces which were assembled to form the car’s required body shape.
A fiberglass mold was then made of this shape, and finally a composite layup was made using that mold and it was cured with the help of Indy Performance Composites to complete the body parts. These were then fitted to the chassis, which is a steel tube-frame configuration built with materials donated to the program by AED Motorsports of Indianapolis.
“We were able to make a much more complex shape by using the Herron gantry mill,” Hylton said. “We were able to design the car on the computer using 3D modeling and translate that to hardware using the gantry mill. Working with specialists from another (non-engineering) realm is excellent experience for our students….and very real world.”
The IUPUI vehicle completed its tech inspection Wednesday as one of less than 40 entries to accomplish that requirement on Day 1 of the four-day racing event.
Design judging took place Thursday. Dynamic competitions such as acceleration, skidpad, autocross, and endurance events will take place today and Saturday.
IUPUI last competed in Formula SAE in 2011 when the school was the top finishing rookie team at the event held at Michigan International Speedway.