Vandal Hybrid Racing Prepares To Protect National Title
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Vandal Hybrid Racing Prepares To Protect National Title

The reigning champions of formula hybrid racing are at it again.

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Vandal Hybrid Racing Prepares To Protect National Title
Briggs Jackson

The Gauss-Johnson Engineering building at the University of Idaho is home to a team of Vandal engineers who spend their time turning wrenches toward success, and if you were to look inside the building’s garage on Line and Sixth Street, you would find the formula hybrid car that took home last year’s national title with a record-breaking performance.

Every spring,representatives from the world’s top automotive industries line up at the New Hampshire International Speedway, in search of the country’s best upcoming talent. The Formula Hybrid Society of Automotive Engineering hosts the competition to challenge university and graduate students in a way that prompts innovation. According to the FHSAE, the goal of every team is to design an open-wheeled, hybrid race car that complies with their 200-page rulebook.

“It’s a tiny little car, but it kicks ass,” said Michael Marsh, a senior and mechanical engineering major.

Last year the Vandal Hybrid Racing’s team, Voltz N’ Boltz, competed in the 250cc class. They took home the Chrysler Innovation Award, GM Best Engineered Hybrid Award and second place in the Skip Barber Teamwork Award. Not only did their car set the fastest lap time, but the engine that uses both an electric and gas-powered motor boasts a combined power rating of around 40 horsepower, and a top speed of 65 mph.

Some of the team’s most recent awards casually sit on a workbench in the garage

The competition consists of three main events that tests the car in autocross, endurance and acceleration, and braking. Prior to hitting the track, all of the cars must first go through a thorough inspection that lasts for days. The team spends all year resubmitting their design to a rules committee, which identifies any issues that do not meet certain standards. This then leads to a cycle of reassembling the car to make necessary changes.

The team is composed of six different subsystems: chassis, suspension, powertrain, research/development, tractive system and electrical/controls systems. Each subsystem is made up of a group of either electrical or mechanical engineers. To optimize the car’s performance, every group conducts a series of different experiments and applies formulaic knowledge to make improvements.

One of the team members preparing to conduct the “Rolldown Experiment”

Jake Gilles, a first-year graduate student, is on the team while doing his thesis on the car. Through his research, he is working to propose a design that will repackage the car with a 500cc motor. One of the challenges that he said the team must deal with every year is the transition of students.

“The learning curve is pretty intense,” said Rick Leathers, a senior on the powertrain subsystem.

Each year the team has to face the challenge of losing many talented students. In addition, new members must take on the task of learning the intricate design of a car that has been developed over the course of several years.

Another challenge the team feels will be of most importance is trying not to make too many changes to the car.

“Keep it simple and expand,” Gilles said.

That is the basic game plan that he said the team must keep in mind throughout the year. When asked what he believes sets their team apart from others, Gilles said it is that they have a much smaller budget, so they build everything themselves. Several other team members agreed that the school’s machine shop is one of the main reasons they have an advantage over other competitors.

The machine shop, located down the hall from the garage, is where the team creates many of the car’s components. By machining all of the part themselves, team members said they manage to save a lot of money, and it creates a more intimate process to designing the car. The daily challenges that the car may present has led to a process they feel has played a major role in shaping their education.

“People are able to apply a lot of the stuff they learn from class,” Marsh said.

This real-world application has helped them retain information more easily than they could before joining the team. For others, their role on the formula hybrid team has presented a whole arsenal of concepts that they have not covered before.

“I’ve had to do a lot of self-study and research on acoustic theory,” Leathers said.

His experience on the team serves as an example that one may not always be able to apply much of the knowledge gained from their classes. He said that being on the team and all the self-studying has taught him more about the specific profession he wants to go into. Material he may never cover in class that the automotive industry looks for its applicants to know.

Some of last year's members landed jobs as engineers at Tesla, Honda, and Chrysler. The experience of being on Voltz N’ Boltz provides this special group of engineers the opportunity to sit their resumes on the desks of some of the most sought after careers in the world.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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