Daily Egyptian

The Saluki Formula Racing team is the fastest RSO on campus

The+hood+of+the+race+car+%22Saluki+KA%22+displays+sponsorship+stickers+in+the+shop+Friday%2C+Sept.+15%2C+2017%2C+in+the+shop+in+the+engineering+building.+%28Athena+Chrysanthou+%7C+%40Chrysant1Athena%29
The hood of the race car

The hood of the race car "Saluki KA" displays sponsorship stickers in the shop Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in the shop in the engineering building. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

The hood of the race car "Saluki KA" displays sponsorship stickers in the shop Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in the shop in the engineering building. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Ryan Demer

One of the more technical registered student organizations on campus resides in the Engineering building on the south side of campus.

Utilizing engineering principles and ideas learned in the classroom, coupled with sponsorships from companies well-entrenched in the automotive industry, the SIU Formula Racing Team creates an open-wheel race car from the ground up. 

“It is a real-world application,” sophomore president Justin Grady said. “Engineering students, for four years in the classroom, would have never ran into problems we face — and we’re being thrown right into it.”

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The racing team is a member of Formula SAE (Society of Engineers), which is an international engineering and design competition where students build and race a car in accordance with FSAE competition rules.

Formula SAE is very similar to Formula One racing, with the only difference being the restrictions that limit the car’s speed. Each year, hundreds of teams from across the globe compete in various locales, but the Salukis only participate in events located in North America. In the three competitions in North America, only university-run student organizations are allowed to enter.

The Salukis have fared well in the competitions they have entered. They are ranked 220 out of 550 schools at the international level, despite limited funding. Some fellow U.S. schools will spend roughly $80,000 on each of their vehicles, with others in Europe pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into their teams.

“We only have the budget to put $10,000 into our cars, and that puts us in the very bottom bracket for cost of car,” the Saluki racing president noted. “In our price range, we are actually ranked first or second best.”

Designing all the parts to the car can sometimes take up to a year while physically building it after the design is done can take about six months. Welding the chassis (the internal frame of the car) is the first step in the process, and the team requires a new chassis for every competition.  

Old designs offer little help to the team when there’s a new chassis, as everything about the car is completely different when the chassis changes. With limited members, it is an uphill battle for the team to build a car to compete each year.

“When all the work is loaded on seven or eight guys, it can take up to two years to build the car,” Grady said. “If we get a big enough team, we will have no problem designing and building a car each year to compete.”

When Grady arrived at SIU, there were only three returning members from the team. The president from 2016 recruited more members, and the total grew to about 20-25 builders. This year they are seeing about 40 people who are attending each of the meetings and are active in the group.

The team is currently designing a new car, with the goal of having the frame of the car built by December and — depending on budget constraints and a little luck — completed in time to compete this season. In the meantime, they are already designing a car for next year’s competition in hopes of forming a sustainable schedule for future builds so the RSO can compete yearly.

“This year we are looking to go to a career building conference for SAE in Detroit, Michigan,” Grady said. “This allows us to get some of our people out to events doing things since we may not be competing this year.”

The Saluki Formula Racing team typically works incredibly long shifts to finish a car in time. As the day of competition nears, there are numerous long nights put in by the team members.

“Our teams will pull all-nighters,” Grady said. “We’ve had guys who’ve come and brought changes of clothes, and we have a little mattress that you take turns sleeping on. Then you go to class the next morning.”

Although this usually occurs only during the two weeks before a competition, members can be found in the Engineering building garage up to midnight on regular school days throughout the year.

“You get a really good sense of camaraderie between everyone working together,” the team president said. “Everyone’s facing the same problems, so you really just understand everybody and it’s a great environment to be in.”

The student run organization does not require you to be an engineering major to join. There are other skills such as marketing, finance, business budgeting and communication that are vital to the success of the team. One aspect of the organization that requires these networking and business skills revolves around obtaining corporate sponsorships. 

“All of the sponsors, we have to go out and search for ourselves,” Grady added. “We go talk to businesses, fill out online forms and gather information to try to get in contact with them.”

Companies such as Solidworks, Matlab, and PTC Creo give the team licenses to their software — which can normally run upwards of $3,000 for a year-long subscription — as part of their sponsorship agreements. According to Grady, many companies they work with are willing to offer these small sponsorships “without the blink of an eye”, because $500 on the scale of a company like auto parts-giant NAPA is insignificant. 

The SIU Race Team is required to place the sponsoring company’s stickers on its car in return for the assets received, not unlike professional race teams in the Formula One racing series and NASCAR. They also promote the companies on the RSO’s social media pages.

Junior vice president Tyler Hoffman believes the engineering RSO is one of the most rewarding RSO’s that SIU has to offer, as it gives members hands-on experience while building business connections that can last a lifetime.

“What you put into it, you will get out,” he said. “You can get job placement, resume building and job interviews.”

Grady added that job interviews are a lot easier after working on a car and learning all of the different terminology that is attached to the build; being able to speak in the right terms means a lot to employers during an interview. He also notes that job placement after working in the Saluki Formula Race Team has an impressive track record. 

“We have excellent placement into careers for everybody in our organization,” Grady said. “We’ve sent people to Tesla, Fiat, Chrysler and Honda for internships.”

Building a race car from scratch is extremely difficult for any career auto mechanic, and these college students are working their tails off to do it. Grady summed up the numerous hours spent from initial design through build completion in a few words — “A lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”

When employers see that you have been involved in SIU’s Formula Racing team, they understand the dedication that goes along with it. Grady and Hoffman stress that joining this RSO will not only provide an opportunity to make lifelong friends, but it can provide a brighter future for your career.

For more information, the team’s website can be found at http://siuformulasae.wixsite.com/siuc. They also are active on Facebook at SIUCFormulaSAE.

Sports writer Ryan Demer can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RyanDemer_DE 

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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