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UND team steers toward Michigan

UND engineering students Derek Remmick, left, and Nathan Wiater, center, smile as they listen to the engine of the Formula SAE car they and other members of the school built for a three-day competition in Michigan. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Revved up, it had the roar of a Formula One racer, and from the front, it sort of looks like one, too, with a sleek front end, big air intakes and wide wheels. At half the weight, though, it's just a baby racer.

The UND mechanical engineering majors who designed and built it say it can reach 60 mph from a standstill in about 3 seconds and top out at 120 mph.

They spent all year working on the machine, and in a week's time, they'll be at the Michigan International Speedway competing against baby racers designed by more than 100 other college teams from around the world.

UND team members said they worked hard to build the lightest, strongest and cheapest racer they could using a 660 cubic centimeter Honda CRV engine that last year's team left for them.

They even made use of aircraft-grade carbon fiber to reduce the weight of the body, team member Derek Remmick said.

Their adviser, Professor Marcellin Zahui, said the learning experience was valuable, and car makers consider participation in the competition, organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers, to be the equivalent of a year to two years of real world experience.

UND's baby racer was essentially designed around the engine, one of the heaviest components and one that team members didn't design themselves.

They designed the frame using less metal, bringing the weight down by 15 percent compared with UND's entry last year, Remmick said. Substituting carbon fiber for fiber glass reduced the weight by about 60 percent.

To slim down further, Remmick said, the team used a 2.2 gallon fuel tank instead of 3 gallons, as in last year's entry. Last year's team found it didn't need that much fuel for the endurance test, he said, which totals 14 miles.

Altogether, the baby racer weighs about 510 pounds.

Performance isn't everything though. To make the competition resemble a real world design effort, teams will be judged on the production cost of their design. UND's team aimed for $15,000 but, using fewer components, achieved $13,000.

Many team members said they'd always been mechanically inclined.

Nathan Wiater said he'd always tinkered in his dad's machine shop at home. His first creation, he said, was a miniature cannon that he made at the age of 10.