A speedy Formula SAE education

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  • Image: Team Oregon State FSAE 2013.JPG
Image: Oregon State 2013.JPG

A few Global Formula Racing (GFR) team members, including Trevor Takaro (with arms crossed) flank their 349-lb (158-kg) racecar during a technical inspection at 2013 Formula SAE Michigan. Oregon State University/DHBW-Ravensburg's car won the autocross event, but the GFR crew finished 25th overall. (Kami Buchholz)


Oregon State University graduate student Trevor Takaro was just another rookie on a Formula SAE team in 2008. But this Formula SAE veteran says the learning never stops.

“Everybody is green behind the ears. We’re student engineers. I mean you’re building a racecar and you haven’t even finished college classes,” Takaro told SAE Magazines at a trackside interview at Michigan International Speedway during the 2013 Formula SAE Michigan event.

In Takaro’s first Formula SAE season, he shadowed team leaders, took notes, asked questions, and assisted with a variety of vehicle assembly tasks. His participation level evolved over the years, culminating with duties as the technical director of Global Formula Racing's (GFR's) internal combustion engine (ICE) powered 2013 racecar. (GFR also fields an electric racecar at other competitions.)

“What I love about Formula SAE is it builds your education. So while you’re taking first-level engineering courses—like statics—you can see how those principles work on the racecar. Participating in Formula SAE makes it so much easier to understand engineering principles, and it makes engineering classes so much more relevant,” Takaro said.

Oregon State University and Germany’s Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW)-Ravensburg formed GFR in 2010. Victories immediately followed as Formula SAE’s first internationally collaborative team snared first place overall honors at the Michigan competition in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Philipp Hehl, a mechanical engineering student at DHBW-Ravensburg, noted that the team has access to a specialized supply base. “DHBW-Ravensburg has connections to almost every mechanical engineering company in Germany, and that’s a big benefit for the (GFR) team,” Hehl said in an interview at the team’s paddock at the Brooklyn, MI, racetrack.

While GFR’s 70-plus U.S. and German teammates spent months designing and building an open-wheel ICE-powered racecar, the overriding focus was systems integration. “I probably wouldn’t have had as much exposure to systems engineering without being on this team. You really see how things interact, so it’s not just about spending time designing one thing. That means if you’re designing a wheel, you should also be thinking about how the wheel interacts with the suspension and the chassis to make the whole car better,” said Takaro.

John Lankes, a 2013 Formula SAE Michigan design judge and a former four-year member of Michigan State University’s Formula SAE team, said the GFR team excels because it has “a top-level understanding of how everything falls into place.”

GFR’s success at competitions is also driven by attention to detail.

“Just about anything you can think of on the car has been simulated and analyzed. The GFR team does the design side of things very well, and I think they do the testing side better than most teams,” said Lankes, a race engineer with Pratt & Miller in New Hudson, MI, an engineering services firm that designs and develops racecars for the IndyCar Series, the American LeMans Series, the Grand-Am Series, and other race series.

Based on lessons learned from college coursework, hands-on Formula SAE experience, and communicating with overseas GFR team members via Skype and email, Takaro said student engineers should be self-motivated. “If I have a question about a particular topic, I’ll ask a professor for more details. But when we’re working on the racecar, which is done outside of the classroom, we learn on our own. So it’s very much like self-driven learning.”

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