The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Simulation to speedway: the journey of GV’s formula racing team

Courtesy | The Laker Racing team

Grand Valley State University’s formula racing team Laker Racing has sped head-on into its ninth year on campus. Started in 2014 by students Bert Vossler and Chris Clark, the organization gives student the opportunity to design, build and race. 

The Formula Racing Program at GVSU allows students to compete, form community and to create.

Eric Whiting, current president of the team, said the process of building the cars is quite long, tedious and starts before the school year begins. The team first builds the cars virtually in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs. They use computer simulations and multiple tests to make sure each part of the car they have designed works as intended before sending the designs off to manufacturing companies. Once the parts come back from the manufacturers, the team begins the long process of building the car.

“This (designing and building the car) is the longest step and takes place over the winter. Lots of our time is spent working on the car and trying to improve it,” Whiting said. “The goal is to have a running and driving car by late spring.”

Though Laker Racing is primarily student-led, faculty advisor and associate professor of electrical engineering Nicholas Baine provides assistance and guidance for the organization. 

“I consider my primary concern to be ensuring the safety of the team,” Baine said. “A close second is helping the team to find the resources and support needed to do what they want to do.” 

Baine is happy to give feedback about designs made by the team, assist with fundraising and sponsor relationships and provides transportation to events and competitions. 

Every two years, the team attends the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (Formula SAE) at the Michigan International Speedway in Lenawee County. This competition involves 120 teams from around the world. Annika Matson, a mechanical engineering major who serves as the aerodynamics and composition lead for the racing team, said these racing events are her favorite part of being part of Laker Racing. 

“This experience is the most fun part of the team, we grow closer as a team through it and really begin to work together on the whole car, rather than just focusing on our separate sub-teams,” Mattson said. 

Aside from the major Formula SAE event, the club also attends some smaller competitions taking place in the fall after the big race. Two of these include the Furrin Group Autocross that takes place in Allendale, Mich., and the Lawrence Tech Grand Prix in Southfield, Mich. 

“The experience of these events is unmatched, we always love to represent Grand Valley and Laker Racing,” Whiting said. 

Building and racing are only part of what the Laker Racing team members focus on. Chris Pearson, a supply chain operations and marketing double-major said it is very important for the team to have sponsors. As the business lead, Pearson works to procure funding and maintain relationships with external sponsors.

“These connections are often formed by our members interning and co-oping at companies in the area and being able to directly talk with higher-ups in these companies,” Pearson said. “Often sponsors find that the team can be a great resource for finding interns, co-op students and future employees.”

Pearson said members’ connections to their family members or local business owners are a huge form of support for the team.

Since the car is student-built, the team spends a lot of time problem-solving and troubleshooting. However, this is not all the team does together.

“A lot of the members become friends outside of the team and hang out,” Mattson said. “We have had watch parties in the past for (professional) Formula One races. We also host drive days where we get to bring the car out to one of the parking lots downtown and do any testing we need on it.”

Overall, the team members come from many different majors and levels of experience, but all together, they work as a “well-oiled machine.” 

“I have had the pleasure of forming very strong relationships with many students who have been on the team and continue to stay connected with many of them,” Baine said. “Each year, I watch as the team becomes like a family and work to help one another when needed. I firmly believe that there have been multiple students who stayed in engineering and completed their degree who would not have had it not been for the team supporting them and giving them a sense of belonging.”

The Laker Racing team has many different roles that students can get involved with to best offer their skills and interests: engineering-based subteams, business roles and social media positions. 

“We are actively recruiting dedicated members that want to work on the car and see it become the best it can be,” Mattson said. “Whether that be designing it, manufacturing it or, most importantly, looking for ways to fund it, we could use you on our team.”


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