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Hybrid Race Car Takes Eighth at International Competition
Half-scale Formula One racer hits 60 mph in 4.5 seconds
Friday, June 1, 2012
By Holly Bowen - Moscow-Pullman Daily News staff writer
Members of the Vandal Hybrid Racing Team at the University of Idaho are celebrating the successful debut of their new car at a recent competition in New Hampshire, where they placed eighth overall among 40 student groups from around the world.
The 660-pound vehicle is half the size of an official Formula One race car and is the first hybrid for the team, which has been active on campus since 2000.
The team had worked on traditional gasoline-powered cars up until 2009, when members decided to move toward more sustainable technology.
Even though that transition meant they weren't able to enter a car in last year's contest, the students' hard work on the new vehicle paid off this spring at the Society of Automotive Engineers' Formula Hybrid International Competition, held April 30-May 3 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
Team captain Dylan Rinker, who graduated from U-Idaho with his bachelor's degree last month, said many members of the racing team this past school year were engineering seniors who needed to complete a design project, and others were graduate students working on their theses. The club is also open to undergraduate students who don't necessarily need the academic credit but are seeking a hands-on extracurricular activity.
The team's graduate adviser, Sam Wos, said he has been involved for the past five-and-a-half years and was part of the switch from a gas-powered car to a hybrid.
He said team members spent a couple years brainstorming, designing and selecting components for the new car before they began the assembly process.
"We used the old car as a test platform for the technology to be used on the hybrid car," Wos said.
The new race car is a parallel hybrid, which differs from a series hybrid in that it uses both gas and electric motors at the same time. Instead of the gas engine feeding power to the car's battery, both power sources work simultaneously to deliver more torque and a combined 82 horsepower. Wos said the car can go from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, "up there with a standard Corvette or Ferrari," and it's currently geared for a top speed of 65 mph.
"The (SAE competition) track is short," Rinker said of the car's relatively low top speed. "It's essentially like driving around really fast in a parking lot."
A parallel system might not be the most ideal configuration for a passenger hybrid car, but energy conservation isn't the racing team's primary goal.
"Series might give more longevity to the system, but we design for more acceleration and handling," Rinker said.
He and Wos said the SAE competition gives students flexibility in terms of what they can create and develop, but they have to meet strict technical regulations, particularly where safety is concerned. Of the 40 teams registered for the 2012 contest, 25 showed up with cars, and only 12 teams were eligible to race after inspections, they said.
"We were the only rookie team to pass the technical inspection for the dynamic events," Wos said. Dynamic events are those that involve actual racing, rather than just examination of specifications, aesthetics and marketing plans. He said many first-year teams are taken by surprise and aren't adequately prepared for the rigorous inspections.
Rinker said one of the highlights of the U-Idaho team's hybrid car is the engine case, which students reverse-engineered from a Yamaha motorcycle engine. The relatively short length of the car's body also plays a role in faster acceleration, deceleration and turns, Wos said.
"It was amazing to see schools that had competed for years showing up with big, bulky vehicles," he said. "We knew when we rolled up that we had done our engineering correctly."
Both students said the teamwork of the electrical engineering and mechanical engineering majors was a big accomplishment, considering the differences between the two disciplines.
"To be honest, it's quite surprising how few electrical engineers find race cars interesting," Wos said.
He said they are seeking more electrical engineering students for next year's team and also hope to recruit non-engineering students who can help with design and business plans.
Rinker said team members who are in town for the summer are doing some maintenance work and testing on the car so they can decide what, if anything, to change for next year's SAE competition. U-Idaho students who are interested in joining the club can email firstname.lastname@example.org for information. Information about the SAE competition is at www.formula-hybrid.org.
Wos and Rinker said the SAE competition is a valuable career opportunity for students, who have access to representatives of car manufacturers at the event. Many car manufacturers require their new hires have SAE experience, they said, and the interdisciplinary aspect of the hybrid car project is a major advantage.
In addition to the experience team members receive, Wos said he appreciates the sustainability aspect of the project. He said more research funding is going into hybrid development as people's mind sets change about how those type of vehicles can be used. He said the race car is one example of that.
"You don't have to drive a Prius to help the environment," he said.Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DailyNewsHolly