They were t-h-i-s close.

May 23, 2007

Kettering's Formula Racing Team almost pulled it off - building a car in six days - but a bad set of bearings dashed their hopes of finishing the competition May 16 to 20.

Kettering's Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Formula Racing Team gave up sleep, going to class and bits of their sanity in an attempt to pull off an engineering miracle. And they came close.

The team took delivery of their prototype engine May 9, six days before the competition May 16 to 20, at the Ford Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich. They managed to get the car together and get it running in time to register on opening day.

Passing Tech Inspection on Thursday, team members hoped they had all the bugs worked out. But Friday they needed to change the bearings on the vehicle's rear suspension. During the endurance run the bearings gave out again and the team had to withdraw from the competition.

"Prior to the bearing change they were doing reasonably well," said Dr. Craig Hoff, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty adviser for the team. "The fact that they got the car done was quite an accomplishment," he added.

"In the long run they did a good job building for the future," Hoff said. What might seem like small compensation, a good foundation for the future, is actually good news for a team with a number of sophomores and freshmen members.

With more collaboration with A-Section students and a whole year to redesign the car, the team has the advantage of a lot of well-learned lessons. They took a gamble on a prototype engine designed and produced by Mahle GMBH of Germany. Kettering was the only North American team using this prototype engine and transaxle. Redesigning the car around the engine taught them a lot.

The Mahle engine is mounted longitudinally, representing a 90 degree rotation from the Honda engine, requiring a lot of design changes from years past. And, because the Mahle engine is 34 pounds heavier than the Honda engine used in previous years, the team had to reduce weight throughout the vehicle - a skill which may come in handy next year.

Being on a team that almost produced a miracle has another silver lining, it's helpful when looking for a co-op employer according to junior Reed Pelly, of Pittsburg, "it's (being involved in the Formula team) helpful when you apply for a co-op position or a permanent job after college. It shows you have experience in the whole process, from designing to building to testing a vehicle," he said.

And this team made a Herculean effort to complete that process in a very short time. No matter that they didn't finish the race, what they learned along the way is invaluable and their ability to work under pressure is unquestionable.

The Formula SAE Competition is for SAE student members to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars. The restrictions on the car frame and engine are limited so that the knowledge, creativity, and imagination of the students are challenged.

For more information on the SAE Formula student competition visit

Written by Dawn Hibbard
(810) 762-9865