College Formula SAE auto design competition went virtual after campus shutdowns

Episode 320

June 14, 2020

Virtual Formula SAE 2020

The restrictions with COVID-19 sent college students home in March to finish their studies. It never occurred to me that this meant Formula SAE for college students would be markedly changed.

An online conversation with Phil LaPointe, who is a Formula SAE judge typically volunteering in May at the Michigan International Speedway event, let me know that this year all judging was virtual. LaPointe is a Research & Development engineer with Honda based in Ohio. He was the suspension engineer for Honda Performance Development for several years before returning to Ohio.

Philip LaPointe (left) asking questions of the overall winner of Formula SAE in 2018 at Michigan International Speedway. The winner was Rennteam Universitat Stuttgart, Germany. The face-to-face aspect in 2020 was lost which made the judging a little less satisfying for LaPointe. (Philip LaPointe contributed photo)

LaPointe reported that he was a judge on Wed and Thursday, all the cars were electric. No actual cars were part of the judging.

He said, “I judged aerodynamics, composites, ergonomics, monocoque or tube frame chassis, etc., but only by presentations and Q&A. University of Washington was our best group. We were mostly evaluating the students’ knowledge as the cars were not built.  They combined all 3 events into 1, no cars to see, no engines running, no dynamic events, no face to face with the students”.

Building a Formula SAE car to compete in the Formula SAE National event requires many team members tasked with different aspects of the build and presentation of the purpose built racer. University of Connecticut with one of their best finishes, eleventh place overall, in Formula SAE. They had the best finish of any New England school in 2019. (UConn photo)

Why do we not have Formula SAE at a university in Maine?

University of Maine Formula SAE team car #1 being test driven fall of 2011. After failing to compete in 2012 at Michigan International Speedway the team built another car which did compete in the 2013 Formula SAE. They finished 64th in a field of over 100 contestants from all over the world.(UMaine Formula SAE photo)

The university and other Maine post secondary schools typically require capstone projects as part of the senior year requirements. The projects are typically directly tied to research at the department level or a work which may interest the student.

I am suggesting that Formula SAE or BAJA SAE would be a great fit to harness the energy of college students who want hands on engineering projects which are challenging and practical. A by product of the competition is the desirability of that student for potential employers.

In Baja SAE, engineering students are tasked with designing and building a single-seat, all-terrain sporting vehicle that is to be a prototype for a reliable, maintainable, ergonomic, and economic production vehicle that serves a recreational user market. The students must function as a team to design, engineer, build, test, promote, and compete with a vehicle within the limits of the rules. Cornell BAJA SAE in 2019 competition (J. Powers photo)

The Formula SAE® series competitions challenge teams of university undergraduate and graduate students to conceive, design, fabricate, develop, and compete with small, formula-style vehicles. The competitions give teams the chance to demonstrate and prove both their creativity and engineering skills in comparison to teams from other universities around the world.
This is the final version of the 2012 Formula SAE built by students at UMO that competed in the Formula SAE Nationals. (Dan Raymond photo)

The new Ferland Engineering & Design Center building at the Orono campus of the University of Maine would seem to be the place to build the programs to support this project. It is slated to open the fall of 2023. Groundbreaking was last month.

From my point of view this is part of what would be needed for Maine to be active in the SAE competition:

  1. Interested core of students willing to spend many hours on the project maybe over a multi-year time frame.
  2. Faculty advisor willing to make the commitment
  3. A retired racer or mechanic willing to commit to mentoring
  4. A fundraiser person who can raise the budget for such a project which can range from $10-30,000. The BAJA SAE will cost less than the Formula SAE
  5. Dedicated place to built the car with at least a rudimentary selection of tools
  6. Supportive administration willing to work with the team
  7. Local business support including race tracks willing to showcase the teams efforts
  8. Information can be found at and

Electric Dragster gets to 200 mph before Don Garlits

Big Daddy in the fab shop area. Swamp Rat 38 built by shop foreman Chris Bumpus, is directly behind Garlits. He ran 7.235 @189.04 mph at Palm Beach International Raceway July 28, 2019. Garlits was 86 years old at that time.  (HTF Motorsports photo)

Steve Huff , Huff Motorsports, Sea Tec, Washington accepted the challenge to reach the 200 mph mark. His dragster Current Technology 1.0 ran 180 plus mph in 2019. The next car Current Technology 2.0 was the car featured in the video below.

The run was supposed to be in early spring, however COVID-19 delays pushed the attempt to May 2020 at Tucson Dragway. The video is courtesy

Celebrate Flag Day 2020

Bernard Cigrand, a small-town Wisconsin teacher, originated the idea for an annual flag day, to be celebrated across the country every June 14, in 1885. That year, he led his school in the first formal observance of the holiday. Cigrand, who later changed careers and practiced dentistry in Illinois, continued to promote his concept and advocate respect for the flag throughout his life. in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of that decree by officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day. (Courtesy the History Channel)

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine