UM-Dearborn Formula SAE one of the best in the country
UM-Dearborn SAE Team Members
UM-Dearborn SAE Team Members

BY DANIELLE SUGAI, Staff Reporter

The top college formula racing team in Michigan resides here at UM-Dearborn.

The Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team at Dearborn was founded in 1994, and each year the team’s goal is to design, build, and race a miniature formula racecar. The team of about 30 students works on their vehicles in the Institute for Advanced Vehicle Systems building.  

This past May, the team competed at Michigan International Speedway — which hosts Nascar events — and placed eighth out of 120 college teams, beating teams from around the world, including Poland, Germany, and Singapore.

The team placed fourth out of 22 teams in a competition in Ontario, Canada last year.  

Captain Julia Klee says that this amount of success is rare for a commuter school like UM-Dearborn.

Competitions are very stressful according to lead chassis engineer Mary Bellino, who is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

“Events are usually four days long, and you are there from around 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.”

The team has had good luck not breaking the car at competitions, but at a competition in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2014, Bellino recalls,

“We broke a chain with three laps left, and it took us out of the event which was a disappointment, but we learned from it.”

The team doesn’t have a competition until May, but they’ve been working on the next vehicle all summer.

The team spent the summer break designing the newest vehicle as parts and raw materials needed to be ordered to begin building the vehicle. The manufacturing process, which consists of welding and finalizing the frame of the vehicle, takes place from November through January. Physically putting the car together begins in February, and once the car is completely built in April the team begins testing.  The team has practice runs in the parking lots on Saturdays and collects data until competitions begin in May.

The vehicles top out at about 80 mph and go 0-60 mph in three seconds, on par with a Porsche or Ferrari.

“It was cool because the car we designed went faster than the mass produced sports cars,” Klee says of the speeds they reached at an autocross competition.

IMG_4161After months of putting the car together, the last variable added is the driver. The team chooses a driver based on a number of qualifications.

Bellino says there’s more to driving than being fast.

“Different events need different drivers,” Bellino said. “The fastest drivers have to be the most consistent drivers for some events, but weight is a huge factor in acceleration so we try and put the smallest person in the car.”

Although it is a student-led club, it needs constant management and is operated like a business. Amongst other things, Klee is in charge of corporate outreach, which entails meeting with automotive companies that may sponsor the team.

Sponsors such as Ford or Chrysler provide grants, donate parts, or give discounts to the team to purchase parts, but the university is the club’s biggest sponsor.

Members get a first-hand glimpse of the automotive world, but also gain professional opportunities.

“Everyone on the team has a job,” said member Andrea Stark, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “Companies want employees with SAE experience.”

The overwhelming feeling after visiting with the SAE club is the passion and dedication all the members have for the team and each other.

Members spend countless hours working on each vehicle, sacrificing study and work time.  

“In our club, we are actually a team,” said Klee. “We go out together and everyone on the team cares about one another.”

Students of all majors are welcome to join said Klee, a communications major.

“You can join any time in the year,” Klee said. “It’s not that you’ve missed the first month, you’re not allowed.”

Meetings are held Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. in the IAVS, and those interested are encouraged to stop by for a visit.

Editor’s note: This story was edited Oct. 8 for the following corrections: a misspelling of Dearborn in the photo caption, the removing of “the” in “the Michigan International Speedway,” the misspelling of Andrea Stark’s name, Julia Klee being a communication/business double major and the organization’s meeting days and times.