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Purdue University Calumet team builds a race car

Purdue University Northwest engineering students Terrence Bennett, left, and Josh Wachowski work on rebuilding a motorcycle engine for a race car at the university in Hammond for the Collegiate Design Series Formula SAE international competition. The competition is in May at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.

It's not NASCAR, but the need for speed will be the same when a group of Purdue University Northwest engineering students at the Hammond campus compete in the upcoming Collegiate Design Series Formula SAE international competition.

About 120 Formula cars designed and built by students in the United States and internationally will compete in multiple "static events" based on design, cost and fuel efficiency, as well as "dynamic events" that test endurance, speed, handling and acceleration.

The competition will be May 11-14 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The 2-mile track is used primarily for NASCAR.

Some of the Purdue students visited the competition last year and got some pointers. The competition, organized by the Society of Engineers, challenges student engineers to design, build and then race a single-seat race car.

Purdue engineering students have designed a motorsports car as their senior design engineering project for a grade, but they went a step further and built it to compete.

Purdue professor of mechanical engineering and project adviser Masoud Mojtahed said past efforts by engineering students to build a car failed.

"Efforts in the past were limited to only a small number of students who did not have an adequate strategy for fundraising and acquiring parts and equipment,” Mojtahed said.

"The present students have completed their design, are making the frame, rebuilding their engine and have been able to acquire necessary parts to manufacture their car. They also have paid the registration fee to enter the competition.”

The team began with the eight senior engineering students — Terrence Bennett, Colten Munday, Ryan Humphrey, Anton Haddad, Matt Moore, Jake Baranowski and Markus Cruz. Then, other students joined the club bringing the total to 35.

The PUC Motorsports team is now a nonprofit, which has been culling donations in the form of equipment, parts and cash. They began the design project in February 2015.

Munday said they divided into four groups — chassis, power train, steering, suspension and brakes and electrical. He said they began with the design, working many months to get it just the way they wanted, then got assistance from a technology major who welded the metal tubing together to build the car's body.

When they complete their work this spring, they expect to have a race car, powered by a lightweight, 600 cc Honda street motorcycle engine capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and producing maximum speed of 80 mph.

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Munday said they've had to buy many materials, including the wheels, tires and raw material.

Practical skills also learned

"As far as designing a race car, we applied our knowledge and figured out the rest by researching the Internet. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is project management — making sure we all stay on track,” Munday said.

Mechanical engineering graduate student Liyuan Gong is working on the engine with Bennett. She said when she heard about the project, it sounded fantastic, and she loves race cars.

Junior mechanical engineering major Thomas Keith, a 2007 Lake Central High School grad, is working on a 3D model for the radiator, which he said will sit on the side of the Formula car.

Senior engineering major Matt Moore pointed out the safety harness and other security for the driver, and said students will go over the car doing their own inspections to make sure nothing leaks and testing the driver's safety gear.

"We'll have about 10 or 15 minutes to present our overall design to the judges with a detailed explanation. We went to the competition last year, and they really hammer you with questions," Moore said.

More than a club

Junior civil engineering major Amanda Vandenoever said she got involved because she wanted to gain different experiences. 

"I didn't really know anything about how cars are designed and how they work. I learned a lot about how much work everyone has to put into a project of this scope," she said.

"It's more than just a club. It's also networking. I've also helped with fundraising and getting people to donate money. We've gone door-to-door. We also have an active Facebook page."

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.