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Race team develops Formula One car for competition

The members of Formula SAE overcome setbacks, work to complete their car in time for local competition.

Nick Bruno leans back on the desk behind him, ready to address his fellow group members. Bruno, vice president of Syracuse University's Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Race Team, is outlining the road ahead as the group prepares to finish the racecar it’s building for competition.

“We should make a new frame,” Bruno says, which draws some laughter from the group. Later, he asks for a list of suggestions, which reads, “New frame, new frame, new frame,” before someone else finally asks, “Do you think we need a new frame?”

Photo: Joe Diglio
SAE International officials told the Syracuse University Formula SAE group that the car frame it designed was too small, and therefore unsafe for the international competition in June.

The car’s frame has become a contentious issue because it prevented the group from entering SAE International’s Collegiate Design competition. The club had planned on attending the Formula SAE contest June 19-22 in Lincoln, Neb., where student organizations market their vehicles to hypothetical consumers and race the vehicles to showcase their capabilities. However, in February SAE officials determined that the frame of the car they were building was too small and unfit for competition.

“They consider it a safety concern,” Ben Mezic, the group president, said. “We don’t see it as being a real issue, but they won’t let us race it; it’s the rule.”

The Formula SAE group started on campus in the 1990s, but disbanded in 2001 due to a lack of support and funding. Then, in 2009, James Shomar saw the formula car sitting in the back of a shop room and was inspired to revive the group. Shomar, a 2012 mechanical engineering graduate, recruited interested students, gained support from faculty from the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, and found sponsors in order to get Formula SAE running again.

“It was a long and difficult process,” Shomar said. “You have to have thousands of dollars to put it together.”

Shomar's goal was to at least leave the group in good hands. When he served as the club president his senior year, Shomar’s focus was especially on maintaining connections with sponsors and people in the automotive field so the group could survive.

“At first we had very few people who actually knew about cars, so I had a lot to do with the building,” Shomar said. “Once I got guys like Nick [Bruno] and Ben [Mezic], I stepped away from the engineering in my senior year.”

This year, Mezic became Shomar’s successor as president. He’s led the group of 15 engineers this year as it transitioned from designing the car to building it. Now, he is leading them as they move past the setback of not participating in an SAE International competition, which Mezic said is still disappointing.

“I blamed myself, because I’m the leader of the group,” he said. “It’s my responsibility.”

As the school year neared its end, they had neither enough money nor time to build an entirely new frame in time for the event in Nebraska.

Formula SAE will have more flexibility next school year, when the engineering school opens up a student shop, which will give students more time to gain welding experience.

“We’ve been lobbying for something like this for a while,” Mezic said. “The college has recognized a need for more hands-on learning.”

After talking it over with the rest of the club, Mezic and his partners decided they would finish making the car after all, despite the non-compliant frame. The group will compete in local autocross events similar to SAE International, held by the Sports Car Club of America, with the goal of returning to SAE competition in the near future.

Said Mezic: “We still want to have something to show the school what we were able to accomplish."

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