UPDATE: The LSU Tiger Racing team pulled off a 9th-place finish in the Formula SAE Lincoln event June 17-20 at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Airport.
Ride along with driver Kevin Murrell:
LSU is in Nebraska this week for a national competition. And not just the baseball team.
While the baseball Tigers are at the College World Series in Omaha, the LSU Tiger Racing team will be about an hour away in the Formula SAE Lincoln event Wednesday through Saturday at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Airport. And, while this LSU squad is a longshot to bring home the top trophy, it’s on a roll.
The team finished 22nd in the Formula SAE Michigan in May, LSU’s best performance ever in an event that drew 135 college teams from the United States and several foreign countries. The competitions test a car’s endurance and performance in a variety of trials, and also factors in its cost and design.
That’s 18 spots better than last year, and 51 better than the year before — not bad for a program that LSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering almost dropped.
That, said Joe Hollier, an Alexandria student who received his mechanical engineering degree this spring, was planned following 2012. Up to that point, the racing team was a project available to seniors in that department, but department heads thought it was taking too much of the students’ time.
Hollier and some other students proposed making the team a club instead of a senior project.
More people could participate, which would spread the workload, and it would allow people to work on the project for several years. Between 20 and 30 students participated on the 2015 car, Hollier said.
Team members think the multiyear involvement is a big reason for the current success track. After finishing 73rd nationally in 2013, the team has finished 40th and 22nd the past two years, which are LSU’s best two finishes ever. Since participating schools must build a car from scratch each year, having people who had a hand in previous projects means the team isn’t reinventing the wheel.
“The best part of being a club is the knowledge transfer,” said Kyle Lambert, of Baton Rouge, a junior mechanical engineering major who has been involved with the past two cars.
“Now, we have something to work off of,” said Saif Bukhari, of San Jose, California, a senior petroleum engineering major who also was part of the past two projects.
After 2014, the team decided to try to lighten the next vehicle to 450 pounds. They fell 11 pounds short of the goal, but did shed 38 pounds.
The cars are roughly a two-thirds scale version of Formula-1 style cars, with open wheel designs and restrictions on speed. The driver must be a student and can’t have raced professionally. Cars are judged in five active events, as well as on design and cost analysis. Most of the times the car is running, it is either the only car on the track, or the cars are spaced out to avoid collision.
“It is a student competition, so there are a couple of things to keep students from dying,” Lambert said. “Hitting the wall at 150 mph would be bad. So, the courses are limited to 75 (mph), maybe 80. It’s a low-speed cone course, so the worst thing you can really do is spin out.”
Although the team leaders still spend a lot of time on the car, they say it’s worth it.
“This is one of the biggest résumé-boosters in collegiate engineering in the nation,” Hollier said. “You have companies like SpaceX and Ford and GM that are directly recruiting these students just by the sheer amount of hands-on work it takes to do the cars. I guess what’s really gained here is experience that most students simply never get.”