GVSU Formula Racing Team prepares for May competition

GVL / Spencer Scarber  
Racing team on Friday February 9, 2018.

GVL / Spencer Scarber Racing team on Friday February 9, 2018.

Drew Schertzer

In 2014, a group of Grand Valley State University engineering students created the GVSU Formula Racing Team. What started as a small number of students with a vision is now flourishing into a robust machine. 

Nicholas Baine, faculty adviser for the club, has been there from the start. He believes the team will see much better results this year at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition coming up in May. 

“Each year we have seen big improvements,” Baine said. “The first years we were in a position where we were scrambling just to pass inspections. Now we have the car designed a year in advance so that we are just making tweaks to improve our time.” 

Baine said the team initially had a tough time getting on its feet. The SAE rulebook is hundreds of pages long, so it took awhile to get accustomed to the rules and even longer to get fundraising. Now, Baine believes the team will be able to surpass half of the 120 competitors at the SAE competition in May. 

The team has gone from a handful of students to 30-something. Initially, it was comprised of just engineering students. Now, a plethora of students from different majors are coming together. However, Trevor Looman, assistant chief engineer, said there is still cause for concern. 

“The biggest challenge right now is getting things reorganized,” Looman said. “Budgeting, materials to order for a new fuel system, and soft and hard dates must be met.” 

Looman explained the complex dynamic of the team: Some members work on the design of the car, while others work on marketing and on the business side of things. He said his job is to coordinate a group of about eight other students to make sure that everything is running on time for a new gas tank and radiator. 

Nigel Armstrong, chief engineer of the GVSU Formula Racing Team, is hopeful about the outcome of this year’s competition. He also believes the club has more to offer beyond racing.

“With this club there are a lot of learning opportunities,” Armstrong said. “Everything is so hands-on and fast-paced, and (it) is the best way to learn engineering and business in the real world.” 

Armstrong hopes the team can bring in new sponsorships this year to expand the organization. He said that companies, even small businesses, will go to the events and often sponsor a team. Larger corporations, such as SpaceX and Ford, are also known to make appearances. This is crucial not only for sponsorships, but also for creating exposure to potential future jobs for participating students.

Funding continues to be a problem for the team. Baine said other teams have budgets of more than $100,000, whereas the GVSU team barely brushes the $10,000 to $15,000 mark. Regardless, Baine believes the future is bright for the GVSU Formula Racing Team. 

Formula SAE Michigan, the SAE competition, will take place May 9 through May 12 at the Michigan International Speedway. One hundred twenty teams will gather from all over to compete in many tests. Competitors will be tested on steering, acceleration and other physical components. However, teams will also be asked about their budgets and other financial matters in front of a judge. 

In past years, GVSU’s team has been ranked toward the bottom of the pack. This year, however, the team is hoping to be placed in the middle to upper portion, Baine said.