LAWRENCE — A group with a long history of sustained excellence at the University of Kansas School of Engineering reached new heights at a recent international design and racing competition.
The Jayhawk Motorsports team, composed primarily of engineering students, topped an international field of 80 opponents to bring home the overall first-place trophy from the Formula SAE West competition, which wrapped up June 23 in Lincoln, Neb. College students from around the world devote a year to designing and constructing from scratch a Formula-style race car. The annual competition, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, is an opportunity for those students to display their efforts in a head-to-head contest. This is the first championship at a Formula car student competition in KU history.
"We did it. This will be the car they talk about for years," said Jenni Hanebutt, a 2012 graduate in mechanical engineering from Overland Park, who led the Jayhawk Motorsports team at the Formula West competition. "It's a real sense of accomplishment. It was such a team effort. We couldn't have done it without each person on the team."
KU is a traditional frontrunner at Formula car competitions, including two top-five finishes in the past five years. Jayhawk Motorsports is known for building fast vehicles that excel on the track in so-called dynamic events, but from the beginning this year's team made it a goal to dominate other critical, off-track categories, known as static events, that aren't directly related to the car's racing performance.
"We set out to show how much we thought through every detail of this car," Hanebutt said. "We really focused on the static events as well as the dynamic events. We knew we'd built a fast car, but we approached the competition with a mindset that we can sell it to the market and that attention to both aspects of the competition paid off."
Competition judges rewarded KU team members for their awareness of those off-track details. The team brought home a second-place trophy in the design competition and won third place for its presentation. Those two areas challenge teams to field pointed questions on the costs, design and conceptual reasoning behind the vehicle and to present it all in a polished, professional manner.
The team also brought home trophies in two dynamic events, winning first place in the endurance competition and second in autocross. The endurance competition challenges drivers to make 19 laps on a 13.6-mile course in the fastest possible time while navigating a series of twists and turns – with penalties incurred if the car strikes any of the orange cones that line the track. Autocross is a shortened, one-lap version of the endurance competition.
"This is a historic achievement. This team came together as a group, gave careful consideration to all aspects of the car and worked hard to reach this goal. We are all extremely proud of this group," said Robb Sorem, associate dean of undergraduate studies, who teaches the capstone design course where students design and build the car. He also serves as faculty adviser of the Jayhawk Motorsports team, which involves numerous underclassmen as volunteers in the project.
The performance at the Formula SAE West competition caps a banner year for Jayhawk Motorsports. In April, the team earned a first-place trophy in the electric vehicle division for its all-electric vehicle entered in the Formula Hybrid Competition coordinated by Dartmouth University at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The 2011-2012 team consisted of 33 seniors and an additional 20 underclassmen volunteers. Many of those seniors have now earned their degrees, such as Team Captain Lauren Lacey, Troy, Mo., who this summer is completing an internship at Sandia National Laboratories before going on to graduate studies in engineering. Several of the underclassmen will now assume leadership roles for the 2012-2013 KU Formula car team. But stand-in captain Hanebutt said the thrill of victory will stay with her for a long time.
"This is probably one of the highlights of my entire KU career. We really are a family and seeing all this come together so well for this win," Hanebutt said. "It was very exciting and probably one of the best things I've ever done."