(Photo courtesy of Mike Holzman)
(Photo courtesy of Mike Holzman)
(Photo courtesy of Mike Holzman)

By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Reporter

There is a team at University of Michigan-Dearborn that many students don’t even know exists. But it may be one of the most interesting teams on campus.

Located in the Institute for Advanced Vehicle Systems building, UM-Dearborn’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers combustion racing team designs and builds their own miniature formula race car. The team is comprised of students from all different backgrounds to accomplish a common goal.

“We’re engineering students and business students. We come from everywhere but our main goal is to design and build a race car that we can compete with against teams all over the world,” said team President Mary Bellino.

The SAE combustion race team was founded 21 years ago and recently celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2014. The team is comprised of 20 core members and about 15-20 volunteer members that give their time in the building of the vehicle.

Membership is up from just five members in 2012.

“It’s a great connection building experience,” Bellino said. “Every single team member worked at an internship in the automotive industry so you make a lot of great connections which is part of this.”

The car is entirely custom based on the specifications laid out by the SAE. The motor is a snowmobile engine that tops out at around 65 mph. The transmission is continuous and requires no shifting, similar to an automatic transmission.

The shiftless build of the transmission lends for the slogan, “Do you even shift, bro?” on the rear of the vehicle. The framework, suspension and body of the vehicle all are custom designed by the team, and they are required to design a new car every year for the competition.

The courses are designed to keep the car from going in excess of 50 mph, but the car can pull almost 1.5 Gs around turns.

As for the driver on the team, there isn’t one yet. The group decides on a driver by letting all its members race on a closed course on campus and the best timed driver wins.

The organization is open to any students willing join, not just engineers. Public Relations Manager Colin Burgess is a biology major but feels that anyone can get something out this program.

“We seek to help students apply what they learn in the classroom, learn and get hands on experience that they wouldn’t normally get,” he said.

The SAE combustion team is a non-profit organization that reaches outside the walls of UM-Dearborn. They were recently featured at the North American International Auto Show with the car they built in 2014. The team was able to promote the car and the school’s College of Engineering.

Among help from the school, the SAE holds a budget of around $65,000. Nearly half the money comes from UM-Dearborn and half from local sponsors like Ford, DTE, Buffalo Wild Wings, 3M and Roush. The organization also has a sister team, the Formula SAE electric team that shares sponsors and part of the budget.

The racing season is approaching rapidly as spring is on its way, and the team has three competitions on the horizon. The first features the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., and they will also attend a race in Lincoln, Neb. and Barrie, Ont.