War Eagle Motorsports is Auburn University’s Formula SAE racing team. Each year the team designs and builds a new racing car to compete in the Formula SAE series against other graduate and undergraduate teams.
This year, the team will be competing virtually in Australia in December. They are busy building their electric car for the competition while still following all recommended regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Health regulations have changed how the team operates for the new season. When campus was shut down after spring break, the team was unable to get into the shop to work on their car until the summer. For the upcoming season, they decided to refine the combustion car they built for the last season and rebuild a new electric car.
“It did leave us in a weird position coming into this 2021 season that we’re in right now because we have these two nearly finished cars,” said Matt Miller, team captain and senior in mechanical engineering. “Our normal schedule is to build a whole new one, so what do we do with these?”
The decision to rebuild the electric car will allow new team members to have the hands-on experience that they might not have had if the team stuck with the cars they already built. The lab regulations put in place prevent more than 10 people from being in the shop to work on the cars. Many members now have to work on their projects from home and come into the shop only when necessary.
“We can help [people] over Zoom and stuff like that, but we can’t actually sit down with them and do these things.” Miller said.
Peter Jones, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty advisor for the team, has noticed a different morale on the team due to limited training and hands-on work being done.
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“It’s hard to transmit the enthusiasm without the personal contact,” Jones said. “We’re definitely taking a hit, but every campus unit is at every campus.”
The team implemented new online programs for machine training and reorganized much of the training process to help new members receive the best training they can.
Competitions this summer were moved online, and this season may look different as well. A normal competition season for the team would include two competitions in North America and sometimes a European competition in the summer. This year, the competitions in North America will be in person, but the European season is still an uncertainty.
Even with so much uncertainty surrounding the season, there are some positive aspects that have come from the many changes. The sanitation regulations put in place allow the team to be more organized than before, and team members have committed more to learn how to work remotely. The team is also competing virtually in Australia.
“Normally, we wouldn’t spend the money to ship the car to the other side of the world to take part in a competition with only 20 cars in it, but since it’s all virtual, great,” Jones said.
Ultimately, Miller said his team spends more time out of the season designing their car than they do racing. The team builds 90% of the car’s parts, and their new electric car is one of the lightest for an American team.
“Some people kind of think that we’re some ragtag group of kids that just want to race, but really we are an engineering team at our core,” Miller said.
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