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Building a single-seat race car : Part I

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Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) is, in short, a junior level Formula Racing competition for college students. University teams from all over the world conceptualise, design, build, test and race a single seater Formula-style car in events held across the world.

If you're an engineering student, it really doesn't get bigger than this. The kind of exposure you get as a student by taking up something like this is tremendous. After all, it's not just a racing event - it's an engineering design event. The car you design and build is tested at various levels, right from acceleration and endurance to cost.

In a lot of ways, FSAE is pointing towards how cars of the future are going to be. There's a very big focus on power-to-weight ratios. Most of the cars here weigh just over 200 kilograms and have power outputs ranging from 70-110 bhp. So, basically, the power-to-weight ratios on these cars are north of 300 bhp/tonne, closely matching the ratios of a Lotus Exige S. 

What we've got here is a small article to help you get started and make your own Formula Style race car.

For simplicity, what we're going to do is divide the entire process into four parts, a page every day for the next 4 days, outlining the entire development process, which should give you a brief idea of how things work. So here goes:

Conceptualise:

This is where all your hopes and dreams about what the car should be like are penned on to a piece of paper. While its nice to think of bigger things like traction control, ABS and turbocharged engines, you'll do yourself a world of good by creating something that simply works without a fuss before making more complex additions. If you're smart, you'll also get a hold of the FSAE rule book which is available online and which very clearly states what you can or can not do with your car. The rule book is very essential, because sticking to the rulebook ensures that your own safety isn’t comprimised. For starters, stick to a tubular space frame chassis, a second-hand superbike engine (under 610cc according to the rules), brakes from one of the Pulsar series of motorcycles, a simple rack and pinion steering setup and a basic all-independent suspension system. In my experience, I've seen that most teams who do well at competitions get their basics right before going ahead with anything complicated and indeed, some take years to just get things working properly. Keep it simple, easy to design, easy to manufacture and easy to fine tune.

Make a list of things that need to be done, find the right people to do the right things and assign roles for every member on the team. Which brings us to team composition. You'd ideally want specific people working on individual sub-systems in the car. The in-car systems can be broadly classified into 3 categories, Power train, Vehicle Dynamics and Chassis. In order to deal with media, design, website and sponsorship related activities, it's important to have a management group as well. While identifying people, take into account what the individual is interested in doing and whether he fits into your scheme of things.

The next stage - designing the race car - will be the next piece in this series.