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Northwestern’s SAE Teams Hit the Streets

Formula and Baja teams gear up to compete next month

The Formula SAE team revealed the car's gothic new look at its April 16 unveiling event.The Formula SAE team revealed the car's gothic new look at its April 16 unveiling event.

With newly redesigned cars, Northwestern’s Baja and Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) teams are about to get fast and furious. Both teams will step on the gas in three competitions this quarter.

The Baja team will head to the 2015 Baja SAE Maryland, an international competition in Baltimore on May 7-10. The Formula team will race May 13-16 at FSAE on the Michigan International Speedway and again June 4-7 at Formula North in Barrie, Ontario.

Race spectators will notice that the Formula car models a new look, with “Northwestern” painted down the side in a golden, Gothic font surrounded by etched ivy leaves.

“We were inspired by the gothic prints on Northwestern’s football team Homecoming uniforms this year,” said Tiernan Murrell, a junior in biomedical engineering and member of the team. “The ivy leaves are created from clear paint over the carbon fiber bodywork, so you can see the weave of the carbon underneath.”

But the team improved more than just the car’s looks. Built for speed, the Formula car now has a 2-cylinder Honda motorcycle engine, which is an upgrade compared to the 1-cylinder ATV engine that it sported in the past. The team also reduced the car’s overall drag by performing computational fluid dynamics on the bodywork, with plans to continue advancing its aerodynamics over the coming years.

“The larger engine means we can get more horsepower without too significantly increasing the car’s weight,” Murrell said. “We also redesigned this year’s suspension starting with tire data, which should mean we get a more effective suspension and smoother ride.”

The Baja car at its April 16 unveiling.Unlike the Formula team, the Baja crew did not build its car from scratch. Instead, it opted to modify last year’s model. Built for off-roading, Baja cars navigate rough terrain, such as snow, mud, and rocks, and they compete in dynamic events, which include hill climbs, rock crawls, and maneuverability challenges. All competition teams are required to work with an unmodified, single-cylinder Briggs and Stratton engine.

“Everything that failed last year has been made bigger and stronger,” said Mickey Cotter, a sophomore in mechanical engineering and member of the team. “We also redesigned our suspension and gearbox to improve performance.”

Cotter said he looks forward to getting dirty during the off-roading elements of the competition. “I love being outside,” he said. “So playing in the mud with the Baja car makes me feel right at home.”