Students engineer race vehicles, learn from industry pros


After countless hours devoted to design and fabrication, the team puts its final touches on its 2013 vehicle before departing for the Baja SAE competition hosted by Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. Team members are, from left, standing: Colin Van Dyke, Peter Fetzer, Time Hettenbaugh, Sarah McGowan, Mike Croston, Andrew Peters and Eric Payne. Kneeling: Austin Beery and Mack Monegan. Not pictured: Scott Angel, Dalton Hayes, Phil Bennett and Mustafa Malik.

After 12 months of putting their engineering skills to work, members of Zips Racing – the SAE Formula team – and Zips Baja – the SAE Baja team – are ready to see their 2013 competition cars on the track.

Team members put classroom theory into practice as they worked with experts in the field and faculty adviser Dr. Richard Gross, mechanical engineering professor emeritus, to determine designs destined to land them ahead of the competition.

Formula car loses 80 pounds

Senior mechanical engineering student and Zips Racing team captain Michan Limbacher constructs the frame for the 2013 Formula car.

The most noticeable change to the design of the Formula vehicle is the addition of wings to the front, rear and undertray.

"The wings provide down force that will improve our corner speed," says Ryan Kruse, the suspension team leader and next year's team captain. "We’ve cut nearly 80 pounds off the car and have moved to a smaller engine, which means less power, so we have to corner quickly."

Other changes to the car that contribute to the 80-pound weight loss include smaller tires, a single-cylinder engineer and the use of carbon fiber composites in the frame construction. And with changes this drastic, Kruse says that all systems of the car – like electronics and the fuel system – have to change.

The first SAE Formula race of the year is at the Michigan International Speedway May 8-11.

Baja Team banks on tire testing

The Zips set a new precedent for Baja race car design by engineering the vehicle around its tires. At Smithers Rapra in Ravenna, the students tested the tires for driving force, lateral force, vertical stiffness and footprints, and used the data they collected to design the vehicle's suspension, steering and transmission.

"No other team had done this before in the history of the competition," Baja team captain and mechanical engineering student Mack Monegan says. "We have experience and data to back our design, which should impress the judges."

Zips Baja will compete June 6-9 at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Both teams operate under the direction of faculty adviser Dr. Richard Gross, associate professor emeritus of mechanical engineering.

"Dr. Gross is the best adviser you could ever want," says Monegan, noting Gross' expertise in vehicle dynamics and decades-long leadership of the Zips Baja Race Team.

Visit UA's Student Design Teams online to learn more.

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or