Engineering students gotta go fast

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Senior Micah Harbour sits in a formula car he has logged more than 400 hours building in a machine shop underneath the ETC building on campus. Harbour is a member of UT’s student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers, which placed eigth out of eighty teams last June.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A student organization left most other schools in the dust after doing better than ever at an international car racing competition this year.

The University’s student branch for the Society of Automotive Engineers was created in 1981 and designs and builds a race car each year to enter into the Formula SAE competition. Formula SAE is the largest intercollegiate competition in the world and consists of 400 teams, team manager Mark Wise said. The team typically races every summer and will race in Nebraska in June this summer, he said.

“With all of this buzz about Formula One going on, we’ve got that here and we’ve had it here prior to all that buzz,” he said. “SAE is a student-run race team. There’s a team of Longhorn racers, and I think it’s important for people to recognize that.”

SAE allows students to network with employers in the automotive industry, said Micah Harbour, team captain and suspension lead. As suspension lead, he is in charge of anything involving the car’s suspension system.

“We can apply what we learn in class and get some hands-on experience,” he said. “It’s a fun way to get a learning experience with real engineering cases.”

Other hands-on experiences offered by engineering organizations include a group that builds small airplanes for competition and a Rube Goldberg competition, which involves creating complicated systems to do simple tasks, Harbour said.

At the Formula SAE competition last June in California they placed eighth out of 80, which is the highest percentage they’ve ever placed, he said. The team’s success in California can be attributed to a healthy mix of good teamwork, good leadership and a team that had plenty of spare time to dedicate to the project, the team’s faculty advisor Ron Matthews said. Matthews founded the student branch during his second year on faculty at UT.

“We’re doing well this year. We’ve got good team leadership and good team chemistry,” he said. “I think we’ll do well if we can come up with sufficient money.”

The team is funded primarily through oil company sponsorships and the Dean’s Office of the Cockrell School of Engineering, but this year money has been particularly hard to come across, Matthews said. The team requires between $25,000 and $35,000 each year in order to engineer their car for the Formula SAE competition, he said.

“We perceive this competition as the equivalent to a basketball game or a football game,” he said. “You’re asking a guy who’s had football tickets for 33 years, so I would know.”