Mississippi State engineering students race car in Mich. competition

Contact: Maridith Geuder

It's not quite ready for the Indianapolis 500, but a race car designed and built by Mississippi State University engineering students recently hit the track in national competition.

The seven-person team took a Formula One-style car to the annual Formula SAE Challenge in Pontiac, Mich., sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Nearly 100 schools took part. Mississippi State, which was entered for the first time, finished 67th overall.

"We had a very well engineered car," said Jiann-Ming Su of Starkville, one of two students who has been with the project since its inception two years ago. "We were a rookie team, but we felt we were among the best first-time competitors."

The University of Texas at Arlington team won overall first place, with the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology coming in second. The cars were judged on presentation, engineering design, cost analysis, acceleration, fuel economy, and endurance, among other areas.

Mississippi State's Honda-powered vehicle finished 22nd in the actual race and 27th in endurance and fuel economy. "It was a very tough field," said Su of the competition.

Just getting to Pontiac also was a struggle. To bring the project to reality, the students raised money and secured donated parts as they took the vehicle from design to delivery.

"They very carefully read the design specifications and did the work," said mechanical engineering professor Bill Jones, the team's sponsor. As a result, the vehicle passed the final design inspection with no negative comments.

By their own estimates, the Mississippi State students spent thousands of hours on the vehicle over the last two years.

"The biggest technical challenge was determining the loads and forces that each part of the vehicle must withstand," said team captain Eric Van Iderstine, a mechanical engineering senior from Pascagoula.

Other team members include Wayne Black of Weir, Andrew Lake and Chris Simmons of Starkville, T.O. Velasquez of Long Beach, and Jason Weidler of Decatur. All are mechanical engineering majors but Lake, who is a graduate student in aerospace engineering.

Despite the challenges, the students said they're glad they took on the competition. Van Iderstine said the effort and dedication that went into this project, as well as the friendships that developed, made the effort worthwhile.

"I wish every engineering student could have this experience," faculty advisor Jones said. "The students demonstrated real engineering for real problems. Their design competed well against those of top engineering schools. Mississippi should be proud of them."