This year, the Longhorn Racing team once again team made the long drive out to Lincoln, Nebraska for the Formula SAE competition. We were joined in the Lincoln airfield by 72 other internal combustion teams and 21 electric teams for the four days that capped off a year spent designing and building our car.
The team made the 15 hour drive from Austin to Lincoln on Tuesday, June 14, and arrived just after midnight on Wednesday to grab a few hours of much-needed sleep before heading to the airfield in the morning. From there, we went straight to work. After being checked in, the team split into different directions to start checking off the items on our to-do list.
First up was gear inspection. A few members of the team got in line right away with our driver gear and our rain tires. Thankfully, the process was painless, and we passed with flying colors. As they took care of that, the rest of the team remained in the paddock to smooth out the last few details on the car. The static shocks used for traveling in the trailer were removed and replaced, the firewall was extended, and edge guards were added around the car aerodynamic components of the car to protect people against any sharp pieces of carbon fiber.
Then, it was a waiting game as the team eagerly anticipated our number for tech inspection to be called over the intercom. Unfortunately, we didn't make it into tech during the first day; inspection closed while we were waiting in line with the car.
The team didn't let that get them down, we were first in line for technical inspection before the doors even opened on Thursday morning, the day dedicated to static events. However, due to our design meeting being scheduled for 9am, we were only able to make it through the first half of tech inspection.
Regardless of the fact that a few of our key members were not able to make it to competition, our team was able to do very well at design presentation event. Our team leads explained their full thought process behind each key component of the car to the judges and demonstrated how their engineering design principle came into their iterative design process.
After the design presentation, the team members back in the paddock started working on mending the initial issues discovered during the first half of tech. Thankfully, they were relatively simple problems to solve, and the team was back in line for tech. Timing was not on our side, though. With lunch imminent, the doors were closed on us, and we had to take the car to the cost report inspection at 1pm, where we placed 38th with a score of 66.58.
Once the cost report was completed, two of our team members, our chief design engineer and team manager, headed to the offsite business presentation where we finished 21st with a score of 57.1, one of the best rankings in recent history. For those who remained at the airfield, it was back to the initial portion of tech, which we were finally able to finish and pass! There was no time to celebrate: we had more to complete in order to be ready for Friday's dynamic events. We completed the tilt, sound, and brakes portion of technical. The biggest issue we ran into was sound; it hadn't been a huge consideration during the design of the car, which meant we were scrambling for ways to achieve a sound within the decibel limit in the rulebook. But we made it through! It was the first time we passed tech on a Thursday since 2011, which was a huge accomplishment for the team.
This meant we were ready for the dynamic events early on Friday morning, which started off with acceleration runs by Alex and Deepak. Our best time was set by Alex on the first of his runs, a 4.585. This placed us at 20th overall with a score of 48.8. Unfortunately, we were plagued by an issue between the acceleration and skid pad events. The throttle broke and punctured a hole in the pedal assembly, and the judges required that we weld a plate over the hole. In addition, we were flagged down for our noise level and were required to re-tech.
Thankfully, we resolved both issues in time for one skid pad run. We placed 35th in this event after setting a best time of 5.697 and adding 12.25 more points onto our total score. We were required to re-tech for sound once again to ensure that we weren't cheating and passed for the final time to the satisfaction of multiple judges.
Then, it was time to prepare for the autocross event after lunch. After checking over the car for any potential issues, our autocross drivers, Vincent and Akhil, headed out to the practice track. This gave them a sense of the car and also enabled the team to make a few quick fixes before wheeling the car directly over to autocross.
Our first driver, Vincent, set off right away. He set our best time on his second run, a 61.481 that placed Longhorn Racing at 14th in the autocross standings and awarded 117.19 points to the team. Unfortunately, before Akhil was able to complete his first run, the car bogged down and lost power. It was a disappointing moment for the team, but thankfully, we were able to identify and fix the issue: the engine rectifier had completely fried. After a quick change, the car was up and running again, but it was too late to complete the autocross event.
Longhorn Racing was ranked 14th in autocross and therefore scheduled to run 14th from last for endurance on Saturday afternoon. With a design review meeting scheduled at 1pm, we were confident that we would be able to start a little later in the day and still have time to fine-tune and clean the car before endurance.
However, we hit a bump in the road early on; so many cars were not finishing during endurance that at 10:30am we were instructed to go to fuel and be prepared to run at 11. This meant that we didn't have time to comb over the car with the precision we would have preferred and were heading to fuel within minutes of receiving the news.
When we made it to the entrance for the endurance event, though, we were told that a lunch break would be taking place after the running of the 39th car. With Longhorn Racing scheduled to be 45th and with the electric cars scheduled to run immediately after lunch, we learned we still wouldn't be running until the afternoon. After having fueled, rules dictate that teams are unable to return to their paddock to eliminate the possibility of cheating. Due to that, the team set up a makeshift paddock outside the gates of the endurance event and attempted to do the final checks to the car that we had intended to make before we'd set out for fuel. During lunch, our drivers walked the track to further familiarize themselves with it.
Just as we had planned, our running did, in fact, take place in the afternoon. Around 2pm, the Longhorn Racing car took to the track with Ahkil behind the wheel. Despite his caution behind the wheel in an attempt to preserve the car for the entire race, he was setting consistently good times, and the team was looking to be a strong contender for securing a top position at the end of the competition.
And then, trouble: during our driver change, the judges spotted an issue. Every few seconds, a drop of fluid was leaking from the seal between the cap and body of our differential. While the issue wasn't posing an immediate threat to the wellbeing of anyone on track, rules dictate that any leak is enough to disqualify a team. It was an incredibly frustrating moment for the entire team, but the decision was one that we understood.
We returned to the paddock and inspected the issue as we waited for the design judges to arrive to discuss our design. At the end of the evening, Longhorn Racing walked out of the event disappointed but hopeful; we may not have completed endurance, but our performance during the rest of the weekend had been strong, and plans were already forming for how to craft a better car for 2017 before the first tools had even been packed away.
Even without having completed endurance, we secured 368.9 points that ranked us at 31st of the 72 internal combustion teams. This was an improvement from last year, where we completed endurance but no other dynamic events. The results served to boost the morale of the team, and everyone who shared in the design and manufacturing of the 2016 Longhorn Racing car could be proud of their accomplishments and prepare to turn their eyes on the design for 2017.