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Thread: Motorsport or Design?

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Perth, Western Australia
    First up I am very sorry if I offend people unduly with this post. What I post here are my opinions and are not representative of the University I teach at, nor the team I am faculty advisor for.

    I was very disappointed in reading the latest "Pat's Corner". In it Pat bemoaned the fact that Formula Student / FSAE has become more about motorsport than engineering design education. Furthermore there was some indication that the points score in the competition reflects this. I have heard this view from a couple of people and I find it both frustrating and at times condescending.

    To start off with I think it is a bit crazy to try and excite students about engineering using motorsports and then turn around and complain that students are excited about motorsports.

    Secondly ALL of the points allocated in an event are allocated on the decisions made by the students:

    - Engineering design tests the ability of students to present the reasoning of their DESIGN to experts
    - Marketing tests the ability of the students to present a business case behind their DESIGN
    - Cost measures the amount of resources required to manufacture the DESIGN and how well documented it is
    - The dynamic events test the actual outcome (or success/failure) of the DESIGN and development process.

    - Skidpan, acceleration, and autocross test the overall performance of the DESIGN
    - Endurance tests the reliability of the DESIGN while operating at its expected limits
    - Fuel efficiency / Economy measures the resources required during the operation of the DESIGNED vehicle

    Most points are allocated to the performance of the designed vehicle. How can this be a bad thing? The real engineering world we are training students for is not a kind one. It is not a place where the consumers accept products that do not meet their design goals.

    There appears to be a continuing misunderstanding that the teams that are doing well in this competition are somehow offering a substandard education to their students. Because they are targeted at maximising the points output of the vehicles that they are missing the subtleties of engineering design. This is utter crap!! Engineering is very simple. You have a problem and you need to solve it as effectively as you can within resource constraints. In FSAE that is attempting to get as many points out of 1000 as possible, with whatever money and time from team members that you can get together.

    Some teams label themselves with a motorsport name, does that make it easier or harder to get the required resources?

    Some teams focus on development at the expense design, which will yield the best success over time?

    Some teams go the motorsport promotion route and drape women over cars, how does that work out for them?

    Some teams do not try some of the innovative ideas for novel suspension or faster manufacturing, does this leave them open to lose in the future?

    Numerous times I have seen involvement in FSAE transform students from uninterested students plodding along in their degrees into excited capable engineers that have been welcomed by industry. To suggest that this whole thing is now more of a motorsport competition (paid drivers/rides, big sponsorship, closed doors etc.) instead of a design education competition (students pushing themselves to be better, know more and develop as engineers) is ridiculous.

    It appears that there is a growing desire amongst some people in decision making roles in the competition to fiddle with things. Hundreds of universities around the world have shown their support for the competition as it was formed. This would not happen if they felt that FSAE / FStudent was against the goals in providing high quality engineering education.

    For those (few) growing increasingly vocal in their efforts to drastically change the outcomes of the competition I ask one thing:

    Please Stop!

    It is like a bad parody of Dr Frankenstein distraught at the fact that his experiment turned out to be a success.


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Raleigh, NC
    Education or Motorsport?
    There is no doubt that FS has been wildly successful, and I would argue that it has been because it is not ĎFormula Sewing Machineí.
    Every year hundreds of teams have to recruit new members.
    And these recruits are not professionals or experienced engineering students.
    They are, at least for my old team, 18 years olds.
    And 18 year olds donít care about sewing machines.

    In the end FS is about the students.
    The teams have to sell themselves to the Uni and sponsors for funding but also to the students.
    They have to sell that the idea of FS is worth the years of work and the all-nighters.
    That having a week long competition in the middle of exams is worth it.
    That the busted knuckles and endless bureaucracy are worth it.
    That the writing the cost and design reports so your work can literally be judged is worth it.
    All to make you a better engineer.
    That is what you have to sell to an 18 year old.

    And no 18 year old is going to buy that, so instead we sell the idea of a racecar.
    Even though it really isnít one.
    You have to get 18 year olds to suspend their disbelief and buy into your team.
    They might stay for the education but they come for the racing.
    Even though it really isnít racing.

    If they want to take the what motorsport there is in FS out you might gain more Uni support, more sponsor funding, and happier insurance companies.
    But you will lose your students.

    That is my two cents for what it is worth.

  3. #3
    Allow me to disagree. If you take a look at top teams, you will understand that we resemble motorsport teams in many ways; from DAQ and testing to the sometimes ashtonishing build quality of some cars. To that extend we might as well be way ahead of many non professional motorsport team. And I always find the final 10 cars in Endurance quite a sight...

  4. #4
    This competition is about teaching practical project management, design, and construction. A race car is just a sufficiently complex project that going through the full process takes up all your time for a year. So why should most of the points be given to a bunch of rather boring-to-watch racing events driven by some old go-karters?

    How else would you tell how well everyone's design works? When I go to buy a sewing machine, I care about how well it sews - can it hold a straight line, can it avoid derailing around a corner, can it put a needle through Kevlar even after it gets dull? When I go to buy a drill, I care about how well it drills - how straight and hard does the chuck hold the bit, how much torque can it exert before stalling, how long does the battery last? When I go to buy a cement mixer, I care about how well it mixes - is it easy to clean, is it capable of making good concrete from cheap, damaged sacks, is it going to be able to run continuously when plugged in without tripping the breaker?

    When I buy a car, I care about performance, and so does everyone else! So it makes sense that we decide the success or failure of our year's work by a series of time trials.

    If you want to get rid of the "build what everyone else does and find a better driver and win the race" approach and the "we'll just build the same car we did last year because it worked then and we don't know as much as last year's team did" approach, then you need to change the puzzle we solve each year.

    Motorsport encourages these approaches, because car owners like trying to justify their expenditures on cars as multi-year investments, and spectators don't claim to like going to races where one team understands something the others don't yet. The main objective of rules writers in most series is to try to turn the clock back to somewhere between 1967 and 1976, to where everyone understands that more downforce equals less straightaway speed and where everyone understands that a more durable car is going to be heavier and slower.

    But those rules writers are like King Canute's courtiers, believing that the King can turn back the sea! Ground effect exists. Carbon fiber exists. Engineers who can analyze complicated, optimized geometries for parts and machinists who can make them exist.

    Racing - and for that matter any other worthwhile advanced engineering endeavor - takes up every dollar that can be spared, regardless of your approach or that of the rulesmakers. Do you want us to be worried about minutiae and spending all our money on a steady stream of new, limited-lifespan junk like the karters? Do you want us spending $50,000 on data acquistion, searching for hundredths of a second within "if we don't say you can modify this, then you can't" rulesets like the sporty car racers? A guy with some plywood and a couple of one-way clutches out of an automatic transmission could build a significantly faster kart than anything the CIK will let you have. A guy with access to a Summit Racing catalog can throw together a significantly faster Camaro-with-a-rollcage sportscar than any GT series will let you have.

    We should've seen a 250-MPH lap at Indy or an Indy 500 finisher running unrefueled on a 60 gallon tank of methanol by now. Race teams will either spend the money on technological progress or on more gas, tires, and motorhomes.

    FIRST Robotics has the right approach. Change the game enough that you can't win every year with anything resembling the same bot. We have a vehicle dynamics problem to solve when we design a new car each year, and we're going to build a new car each year. No reason it shouldn't be a different one each year. Next year, mandate a spool, but only for next year.

    And in the end, it's the dynamic events that'll tell us whether we're really making progress with all this work! You can't tell whether a team has understood what's important and what's not without making a storming performance in the dynamic events the goal every team goes for. We won't get to the $30,000, 300-mile range, 300,000 mile durability, 0-60 in 3 seconds electric car without making the measurable goals the ones worth going for.
    Charles Kaneb
    Magna International
    FSAE Lincoln Design Judge - Frame/Body/Link judging area. Not a professional vehicle dynamicist.

  5. #5
    Originally posted by mech5496:
    Allow me to disagree. If you take a look at top teams, you will understand that we resemble motorsport teams in many ways
    Resemblance in overconfidence, yes.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    Well, I've just read that particular "Pat's Corner", and, unsurprisingly, find it to be HYPOCRISY IN THE EXTREME.

    For more than a decade Pat has encouraged students to build cars that are effectively small clones of Formula Fords. Yes, real racing cars! To paraphrase;
    "Don't think the problem through!"
    "Don't try anything original!"
    "Just blindly copy the same-old, same-old, boring old racing cars!"

    Despite my asking many times, Pat has yet to make any comment regarding his support, or otherwise, of the "Creativity and Imagination" clause in the Rules. This lack of response strongly suggests he is opposed to C&I. But what is an "engineer" other than someone who solves a problem by using tradesman-like skills in an "ingenious" way? (FWIW, "ingenium" is the etymological root of "engineer".) Yes, hypocrisy in the extreme.

    When UWA turned up at FSAE-A 2012 with perhaps the most original and advanced suspension DESIGN in the history of FSAE, they were rewarded with 3 points out of 200! Sure, the car was unfinished, but that didn't stop it competing normally in Cost and Presentation. Clearly, there was an intent by the Officials (Pat?) to penalise UWA for their excellent DESIGN efforts.

    Furthermore, it appears there were attempts to discourage ALL students from ever actually DESIGNING their cars, as opposed to just copying the same-old, same-old "PAT" ("polish a turd") racing car. From Pete Marsh's post in the "UWA/Lotus 88..." thread;
    The issue was "this was not allowed in F1, so what would make you think you could bring it here?",
    "The FIA has ruled on this and it is not allowed.", ...

    The Officials (Pat?) tried to ban the car, and presumably ALL future such cars, using arguments equating FSAE to real Motorsports! Yes, real Motorsports, which are now effectively all "spec series", and any original DESIGN is banned. Hypocrisy in the extreme.

    And as for EDUCATING the students, who will do this?

    I hope it is not Pat, because for years he has been peddling the fallacious claptrap that "migrating roll centres" are a bad thing. This is one of the many fairy-tales that still exist in the Motorsports cottage-industry, but have no basis whatsoever in the age-old field of Rigid-Body Mechanics. Poor old Newton, Euler, etc... Why did they bother?

    How about Claude, who is an internationally renowned expert in, ... wait for it, ... MOTORSPORTS! Well, again from Pete's post;
    "We spent a couple of hours, with pencil sketches and the actual car, with Claude before he could see what we had done and how it worked."
    So, who is educating who? Hypocrisy in the extreme.

    Too much hypocrisy.....

    I will add something positive later, but first I have to go out back and be sick....


  7. #7
    Z, they got three points in design because the car didn't run and wasn't anywhere near complete. Most cars that do not take part in dynamic events score under 50 points in design.
    Charles Kaneb
    Magna International
    FSAE Lincoln Design Judge - Frame/Body/Link judging area. Not a professional vehicle dynamicist.

  8. #8
    Charles I have an objection here. We scored 80/150 in design at FSAE Michigan 2010 although we didn't ran a single dynamic event. And theres a huge difference between 3 and 50 points.

  9. #9
    I don't know Pat personally and have never met him, but I do know that he has put forth years of hard work and an incredible amount of time and effort to help FSAE grow, and more importantly help the students grow into great engineers. Don't turn this into an anti-Pat thread as this is not what he deserves after all he has done for us! Just like you are entitled to your own opinion, so is he, and this article is is just that, an opinion (and one based on a lot of experience at that).

    Kevin makes good points in his post, but so does Pat. I'm currently the community adviser for the team at my former university and see the very issues Pat mentions. It's always been hard to get money and/or any form of support out of the school because they always thought it was just a racecar or motorsport and not the amazing engineering learning opportunity that it really is. It was always the human powered submarine team or some other equally disappointing club that got all the attention simply because of the motorsports connotations that FSAE has. With big corporate sponsorships like Red Bull coming in, that's only making these connotations worse. Sure, it is on us to convince the university of the benefits of FSAE as an engineering competition and not a motorsports event, and that is certainly a great skill to have, however, things are not getting any easier.

    I'm not saying that Red Bull as a sponsor is a bad thing or that the current direction FSAE is heading is a bad thing, but it is certainly a change from years past. I'm also not offering any solutions to this "problem", I'm just trying to point out that Pat does have valid points just as much as Kevin does. Teams are going to have to work harder to convince outsiders of the amazing benefits of FSAE and that it isn't just a motorsports competition.

    As far as changing the competition to emphasize more on engineering and less on "motorsports", my vote is to leave it the same (or very nearly the same). It would be nice if there were some way to level the playing field as far as driver ability, however, that's easier said than done, and a good reason to get your cars finished early for lots of driver training and debugging!
    Billy Wight
    University of California, San Diego - Formula SAE 2004-2006

  10. #10
    It's really hard to take motorsports away from FS. If we are here to design and build race cars we're certainly part of motorsports, but not racing teams because we don't really race these cars.

    To me what Pat is trying to say is that 'some' students mix up their priorities (between classes and hands-on FS experience) and often neglect the importance of theoretical part of their education. I would not argue with this because it is quite true.
    The moral of the story is "go to class"
    Sheridan Motorsports troll (2012-2014)
    Cubicle troll (2015 - God knows when)

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