UA speed racers set for May competition

By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 29, 2004

A group of UA students will compete in a national racecar competition demonstrating their prowess to engineer and race a formula-style racecar in May in Detroit.

Each year, a team of UA engineering students design and build a racecar for the international formula competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers featuring more than 150 different teams from colleges and universities around the world.

The small formula-style cars are judged in four different events including acceleration, where cars race down a 75-meter drag strip; skid pad, where the car tries to pull as many g-forces as possible for a sense of weightlessness; autocross, which is a short 1-kilometer road course race through hazards and cones; and endurance, a 22-kilometer race similar to autocross that tests every aspect of the racecar.

Ryan Kanto, team captain of the UA SAE organization, said last year's competition was a surreal experience for him and the other members.

"It was great seeing all the different college teams from around world competing against one another," said Kanto, a chemical engineering junior. "You learned so much from different car companies who critiqued your racecar and gave you ideas on how to improve on your mistakes."

He said he was humbled by the other teams' effort and realized how much more effort and work they had put in to their racecars to be a top team.

"It's great seeing amazing things accomplished by students," Kanto said.

Ryan Kemmet, marketing director of UA SAE, said the competition was one of the most fun experiences he's been a part of while at UA.

"The competition was beyond anything I could've imagined," said Kemmet, a material sciences and engineering sophomore. "It was amazing to compete against all the teams and it was well worth all of the effort."

Kanto and Kemmet said they were a little frustrated about the team's performance last year and their 75th-place finish, but said that was the best any UA team had placed in the national competition.

But Kemmet said if the racecar hadn't blown a fuse in one of the competitions, the team would've placed better.

Kanto said the team hopes to learn from its mistakes and said there goal is finishing in the top 25 in this year's competition.

"We hope to place higher this year, but overall just improve on last year's performance," Kemmet said. "It's all about having fun, bonding and the social experience."

Kanto said the competition is about developing a solid program that can come back year after year to perform against some of the world's best colleges and universities.

Jon Schwab, static events director of UA SAE, said the UA chapter comprises 50 students this year. He said the club's diversity makes it unique, adding that the group includes students from 12 to 13 different majors.

Kanto said the club is a learning environment just like a class and compared the building process of the racecar to the scientific method by proposing an idea, hypothesizing what will happen, testing the scenario and coming to a conclusion.

"We take the skills we've learned in engineering classes and build something from the ground up," said Schwab, a computer engineering senior. "We build it, test it, break it, fix it, et cetera."

Schwab said there are five or six teams in the club that work to fine-tune the racecar in creating a suspension, steering, brakes and a power source for the vehicle.

He said the fine-tuning is necessary in gaining local or national sponsors, such as Exxon-Mobil, Raytheon, Rincon Research and the UA engineering college, to donate money to the club.

Schwab said the club's budget is around $20,000 to $30,000 for the year with $6,000 spent on traveling to the competition, and $14,000 to use on parts to construct the car.

The computer designed racecar runs on ethanol or alcohol which is a better alternative fuel source for the group's purposes, Schwab said.

The single-person racecar weighs about 450 pounds and gets 110 horsepower on the stock motor alone without the added turbocharger to increase power. It uses a motorcycle engine and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and stop on a dime, decelerating from 60 mph to a complete stop in less than two seconds.

"It's a really high-performance vehicle," Schwab said. "It's faster than your everyday Ferrari."

He said the racecar takes a year to complete with each student working on the car at least 60 hours per week.

Schwab said the racecar will be functional and ready to take out by January, leaving the team four months to practice racing it.

Students interested in becoming a part of the SAE club can attend its weekly meetings Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. in AME S212 or go to