As co-captain Nic Wentling describes it, previous incarnations of the Shocker Racing team "grew and fell apart and grew and fell apart."
Now in its fifth year, the team — a student organization dedicated to the design, testing and marketing of a formula-style race car — shows no sign of crumbling.
Wichita State's Formula SAE, which stands for Student Automotive Engineers, is constructing a car that it will test and race in California in June 2011. Membership has grown from fewer than 10 the first year to more than 30.
"More people are finding out about our organization," co-captain Evan Pistora said. "It started out with about four or five graduate students. They didn't put up any fliers around campus, so nobody knew about (the team). Starting this year, we've put up fliers on every floor of every building on campus to get more members."
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Most of the members are engineering majors; the team also includes aerospace majors, who work on the car's aerodynamics, and business majors who help promote and market the car.
Increased membership has allowed the team to split into sub-teams so students can focus on their areas of strength.
"So far it's been great having so many more hands to assist," Wentling said. "It takes a lot to build one of these cars, especially within a year, which we've never done before. The organization has been great. The sub-team leaders know what to do with their people. The hierarchy is very beneficial."
Students aren't the only contributors. The Student Government Association provides $20,000, but for equipment and parts the team also relies on sponsorship and donations.
The team recently started building its 2011 car, which will compete in the FSAE event in California in June. Until then, the team will race the 2010 car in autocross events that are focused more on driver training and testing parts than on winning.
A particular area of emphasis is braking. This summer in California, the team finished 22nd in a field of 80 mostly because it took 22 tries to pass the braking inspection, preventing it from competing in other events. The team also struggled to complete the sound inspection because their exhaust system was initially more than the allowed 110 decibels.
"We were luckily able to pass those, but it took us a day extra and about 25 (attempts) to pass braking," Wentling said. "It delayed us and it didn't allow us to compete in the autocross event and two of the events that we would have done really well in."
The team addressed the issue by adding rear brakes that will enable the back wheels to lock. Other goals are to improve aerodynamics and weight reduction.
"We see those as two areas that can put us into the top 10," Wentling said.
After its completion, the car will reach speeds of more than 100 mph, but speed is sacrificed in favor of mechanical improvements.
The goal is for the car to be completed by March, a lofty expectation since the team has never built a car in less than a year. But the early completion enables the students to fix any problems by the California competition next summer.
"Once our 2011 car is done, our best drivers will start driving the new car to make sure it isn't going to fall apart before competition," Pistora said. "We're trying to get it done early enough to just make sure everything is built reliable enough and it won't fall apart during endurance, which is one of the events at the main competition."