By Jonathan Olivier | LSU Student
Hidden in a warehouse on LSU's campus, securely tucked behind a cluster of plain, white buildings, a group of mechanically inclined students toil away on a project they describe as "their life."
Scraps of metal line tables and decorate the floor, along with spare tires, engine parts and countless nuts and bolts, which lay until grimy hands swipe them for assembly.
From freshman to seniors, team Tiger Racing devotes countless nights and weekends designing, welding, finessing and marketing a race car to compete in the world's largest collegiate engineering competition, Formula Student Automotive Engineering Collegiate Design Series, each May at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.
"It's not easy, it gets intense," said Matthew Richards, mechanical engineering senior from New Orleans and Tiger Racing president. "We sacrifice holidays and even weekends to work."
The roughly 30 Tiger Racing members, part of the LSU Formula SAE Club, they wouldn't have it any other way.
Team Tiger Racing finished 73 out of 120 teams at the competition last year, arguably its best showing since the team's inception in the early 90s. This year, the team is designing a new car with hope to make a top 35 finish. Members, however, have seen their fair share of obstacles potentially inhibiting that goal between team-induced budget cuts, a lost title sponsor and mechanical issues.
"Budget cuts are just another challenge," Richards said. "It doesn't end; another challenge will come. You have to learn how to overcome them."
Learning to work through difficulties is something the team has come to accept, especially after it lost one of its pivotal sponsors this year. Current sponsors include BASF, Dow, Royal Purple, Performance Contractors, and Baker Hughes, among others.
Brainstorming and collaboration between team members refocused the car's design and helped them recognize more expensive materials may not be able to be used. For instance, a light, carbon fiber suspension was planned for this year's car, but adjusting for funds, the team opted for steel to reduce costs.
Students run every aspect of the building process, as well as clinching sponsors, ordering parts and creating a budget. The Formula SAE mandated faculty advisor assigned to Tiger Racing, assistant professor Ingmar Schoegl, allows students to make major decisions, which, he said, encourages more teamwork and forms a stronger learning process.
"I try not to get too much involved in the nuts and bolts because it's really their job," Schoegl said. "I usually try to stay in the background and I am there when they need something."
This role helps the students learn more than just how to build a race car, but it also instills principals from economics and business. While racing the car, termed "dynamic events," is a vital part of the competition, the team's car is also judged on "static events," which identify a cost report and business-logic plan.
"We want to focus as much as we can on the static events this year," said Simon Shirazi, mechanical engineering senior from Baton Rouge and Tiger Racing co-captain. "[Last year] we did not prepare for them enough."
The business plan the team comes up with will be critiqued by competition judges who will assess if funds were used efficiently to machine car parts. Marketing themselves and allocating money when needed can be just as important as designing the right part for the car, said Graham Lewis, mechanical engineering senior from Slidell and co-captain.
NOLA Motorsports, which operates a race track near New Orleans, has played a central role in developing the local racing scene, Richards said. Tiger Racing has developed a relationship with NOLA Motorsports as a sponsor and as a partner to attract more racing talent to LSU.
"The talent exists and there is no reason why LSU cannot be one of the top competitors in the competition," Richards said. "There is a huge amount of students that want to move into fields like this."
The LSU College of Engineering recently implemented an international automotive minor to welcome that interest. Students take two semester-long classes in Italy in an exchange program with Politecnico di Torino, a leading engineering and architecture institution, and classes applied to the minor at LSU include an internal combustion course taught by Schoegl.
Tiger Racing seniors are taking advantage of their last year of involvement with Formula SAE, and the late nights redesigning parts and long days troubleshooting problems has given them a practical understanding of how the business-engineering world works.
"The experience gives you a leg up," Richards said. "Some companies only hire Formula SAE students."
Lewis said he experienced firsthand what being a part of Formula SAE can have on potential employers.
"I gave [a potential employer] my resumé and they asked what sort of challenges I had to overcome," Lewis said. "I had a perfect example. I explained the car design and how it differed from last year and what I went through to improve it. They were impressed with the answer."
The Tiger Racing roster includes Baton Rouge residents Luke Dodge, Steven Rougeou, Ryan Kinler, Travis Odom, Eric Rohli, Eric Murrell, Kevin Murrell, Forest Lee, Kyle Lambert, Will Koederitz and Cody Gibbs; Joe Hollier of Alexandria; Mathew Richards of New Orleans; Matt Mabile of Pierre Part; Tommy Harrington of Dallas, Texas; Kody Deslatte of Ponchatoula; Connor Albrecht of Austin, Texas; Vincenzo Tomassi of Euless, Texas; Joe Kenny of Weston, Fla.; Frank Duvic, Sarah Rowland and Austin Hall of Slidell; Saif Bukhari of Cupertino, Calif.; Joey Fawad of Houston, Texas; Angelle Bercegeay of Lafayette; Alex Rome of LaPlace; A.J. Pisano of Windham, N.H; Andrew Lewis and Stephen Schmitt of Gonzales; and Blake Gaspard of Batchelor.
Many of Tiger Racing's members will be spending the Christmas holidays manufacturing parts and testing different aspects that eventually will make its way onto the car's frame, and, Richards said, he hopes to have the chassis and suspension completed by the first of the year.
More about Team Tiger Racing can be found at tigerracing.weebly.com.