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Mechatronics Students Design and Build Custom Formula One Race Car

More than 50 SFU students are fine-tuning a project they hope will put them in the driver’s seat at a fast-paced national competition.

Spencer Steele (in car) and Geordie Goodall, Mechatronics Systems Engineering students, work on their SF1 Formula One race car. Students hope to compete with it in the new year.

The SF-1 team has designed and built a custom Formula One race car and is preparing to enter it next spring in Toronto’s Formula North competition. Bigger goals include heading to the Formula SAE (Formula Society of Automotive Engineers West) competition in Michigan in 2015—a contest that attracts more than 200 North American universities.

Spencer Steele, who leads the SF-1 team, says the competitions give students a hands-on experience that is “similar if not identical to what they would experience after university in the industry.”

The concept for the car originated as a capstone project involving Steele and a handful of fourth-year classmates. They created the SFU Formula 1 Club, and since then more than a dozen “sub” teams have emerged to cover work on each of the vehicle parts and project fields.

Most of that work since has been done on the premises of Steele’s Maple Ridge shop (MRX Marine) but the group is now looking for space, either in the City of Surrey or on the Burnaby campus, where they can establish a more permanent presence for future students to continue the build. To display the car recently at the Surrey campus, team members had to dismantle and rebuild it.

To date, funding has come from local industry sponsors such as Lordco Auto Parts, and other sources, including the Engineering Student Society Endowment Fund (ESSEF).

Student team is interdisciplinary

The SFU team involves students from diverse fields, including engineering, business, communication, science and interactive technology. They spent eight months designing the car as a computer model before assembling the various components. They are currently in the process of rebuilding a backup engine they can also showcase at events—including the Vancouver Auto Show.

“To compete, the vehicle is required to have the basic features of a Formula 1 race car, including an open-wheel design, 600 cc engine and a 20 mm restrictor to reduce the air intake flow—all elements that limit the car’s power,” explains Steele.

“This is a huge challenge and is the reason the car is so small. We’ve built the chassis using aluminum instead of steel to make it lighter.”

Student vehicles are judged on performance, design, safety, cost, efficiency and marketability. Steele, on his “final lap” of studies in the School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering (MSE), is hopeful that fellow students will nurture the team and keep the project going once he graduates next year.

He is hoping to land a job with Tesla Motors, the world’s largest maker of electric cars, based in California.

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