I got back Sunday from Middle-Of-Nowhere Michigan (also known as "where Michigan International Speedway, and nothing else" is). My team had a tumultuous journey to get there, and a very eventful time once at competition. I'm going to give you guys an inside look into what competition was like. I'll try to cover everything without skipping all over the place, but who knows how that will work.
Day 1 (Wednesday): Weather was cold and rainy—A sign of things to come. Car got in late Tuesday night. Our driver got held up by snow in the Rockies, and had to drive for 29 hours straight to get the car to comp in time. Many, many thanks go to that man and his wife/copilot. Anyways, Wednesday is all about making it through Tech Inspection and getting settled. We set up our pit area, then around midday, brought the car over to tech inspection. We knew going in that, because of our seat, we probably weren't going to pass the broomstick test (used to measure clearance above driver's head in the event of a rollover). Sure enough, we made it through tech on almost the first try (though it took FOREVER. The inspector we had must have been a rookie, because he consulted every single rule with another inspector). We had to go back to our older, lower cut seat so that our tallest driver could sit down far enough to pass broomstick. Made it through, and that pretty much was Wednesday.
Day 2 (Thursday): Design judging day. Weather was still cold and rainy. Except colder. Our design judging time slot was around 1:30 PM, so in the morning, we tried to squeeze through brake, sound and tilt test. Tilt test is a two stage process. They fill your car with gas, put it on a tilt table, and tilt it first to 45 degrees. They check to make sure no fluids are leaking. Then they tilt it to 60 degrees to simulate 1.5g of acceleration, and make sure again, no fluids are leaking and that the car has a low enough center of gravity. THERE IS NOTHING HOLDING THE CARS TO THE TABLE with the exception of a safety strap. Yes, cars have tilted over. We had a loose hose clamp the first time, so we tightened that and all was good. On to sound. We run a single cylinder 450, and those are notoriously loud. All cars must be under 110 db (measured 1 meter away from the exhaust tip at a 45 degree angle with the engine at 7000 rpm). First time through we were at 113 db. Crap. Went back, richened the tune up at 7 grand to kill the noise a bit, and ran at 109.8 db. Woo hoo! We quickly tried to go through brake testing (must lock up all 4 brakes), but with brake bias issues and the fact that we needed to get to design judging, it had to wait.
Design judging is basically 4-6 engineers from industry hyper-analyzing every component on the car. It's as much of a "how well was your car designed" as it is "can you at least justify why you did this, what could make it better, and how well did you present it". I was in charge of our drivetrain (everything behind the engine, so gear ratios, differential, etc). Design judging went well, and we ended up getting 15th (tied with a few teams).
Before I move on to day 3, I have to mention the industry presence. They may as well rename the event "GM, Ford, and Chrysler central". GM had a huge presence (booth, some Corvettes, the new SS), and Ford had an equally large booth (new Mustang, Boss 302S, more). Plus plenty of manufacturers (Bosch, TRW, more). And they were all recruiting students HEAVILY. If you want the best, hire from FSAE.
Day 3 (Friday): Start of dynamic events! We quickly made it through braking test in the morning, threw the slicks on the car, and went right away to acceleration and skid pad. In acceleration, we ran about as fast as a heavy and underpowered car can run (our car is 450 w/o driver, with 50 hp. Oregon State, who won, is 350 w/o driver and has probably 75 hp). Skid pad is also tough, because it has little to do with driver ability and all to do with car set up. We ran a mediocre time (27th in skid pad, 41st in accel), and a lot of that is a result of a Torsen diff that, in its current configuration, causes horrible mid corner understeer. Next was autocross event in the afternoon. The weather today had been mostly cloudy with no rain, but the rain could have been coming. We took a gamble, assumed it would rain, and ran as early as we could. We put down a 60.3 second run (at the time was the fastest of the day), but the rain held off, the track rubbered in, and the fast teams were putting down 53s and 52s. But then, tragedy. Our second driver stuffed the car into the wall in the practice pit, demolishing our front wing and bending the crap out our front left corner of the suspension. Luckily, we had mostly fabricated spares, but it meant for a hectic afternoon of welding, fabrication, and problem solving. It broke at 2, we got it re-teched by 5:30, and in between was hell.
Day 4 (Saturday): Endurance day. With the events of yesterday, we had a little doubt that we would finish endurance. A Cal Poly SLO team hasn't finished an endurance race since about 2005, and finishing was a primary goal of ours. The weather was cloudy and gloomy, but we hoped the rain would hold off. It did, and we were able to get through endurance with decent times. Unfortunately, one of our drivers (same guy who crashed, he's fired) had a few off courses which add 20 seconds each to the overall time, and we didn't score all that well in endurance, but hey, we finished! The team was happy, tired, and ready for sleep. We ended up in 26th overall, which was close enough to our beginning of year goal of top 25. Very pleased with the result, motivated for next year, but ready for some time off.
Some additional notes: GM fired up their C7.R. Good god. I have some pics of the better teams running endurance, and I'll try to upload the videos of them running and of the C7.R. Lots of cool teams there (Damn Germans are good!), lots of nice people, and seriously, MIS is in the middle of nowhere. We ate at the same restaurant (JRs, highly recommended) three nights in a row.
Oregon State (GFR)
U Michigan: Crazy Aero package
TU Graz (from Austria). They have a custom built AMG engine that puts out about 95 hp.
Looks like Graz's car again. Cant tell.