Pellissippi State Motorsports headed out to Las Vegas with a car about 110 pounds lighter and 60 horsepower faster than the first one the students designed and raced two years ago.
They were betting the team’s new car would finish better than their first one did at Formula SAE Michigan in 2019, and they were right.
Pellissippi State Motorsports finished sixth at Formula SAE Nevada held June 16-19.
“There were 36 teams, and we finished sixth overall, as well as sixth in the Acceleration event,” said Christian Boone, who was a Pellissippi State student when he founded Pellissippi State Motorsports in 2018 and now serves as an engineering lab technician at the college. He is finishing his Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Tennessee.
Pellissippi State was, again this year, the only community college in the competition that brings university undergraduate and graduate students together to compete with small, formula-style vehicles that they have conceived, designed, fabricated and developed themselves. The team finished ahead of larger four-year universities including Purdue, West Virginia and Mississippi State, among others.
“Our biggest surprise for everybody (in 2019) was not that we were the only community college in the competition, but that we were a first-year team,” Boone said. “The chief design judge said our car was the best first-year car he had seen.”
An issue with the engine, however, tripped up the team in 2019, and Pellissippi State Motorsports finished 95th of 109 teams that year, with an overall score of 181.4. This year’s car finished with an overall score of 378.7, an improvement of nearly 200 points.
Boone said from the moment the 2019 competition ended that the team’s main objective moving forward was to reduce the weight of the race car from 578 pounds with fuel/without a driver. With the 2020 competition canceled due to COVID-19, the team regrouped and started working on the 2021 car in August, despite the ongoing pandemic.
“We’re down to 465 pounds now by incorporating lighter materials and being more careful with the choice of hardware we make (internally),” Boone said at a send-off celebration for the team June 7. “We also have a launch traction control that will help us get off the line quicker.”
“This team took what they learned from their first car and adjusted, and it looks great,” Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. said June 7, checking out the new car. “It’s going to be exciting to put it on the track.”
The 2021 competition was hot – literally. After temperatures reached 115 degrees in Las Vegas and several competitors passed out from the heat, Formula SAE Nevada revised the schedule. Instead of teams having 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. each day to get their cars to pass tech and safety checks and then complete the competition’s four events, the window was shorted to 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. after the first day, said Associate Professor Lynn Klett, the team’s faculty advisor.
“They did great despite the oppressive heat and aggressive schedule,” she said. “Temperatures were 115 and higher every day.”
The shortened schedule knocked 14 teams out of competition, as their cars never made it out of tech, according to the Formula SAE Nevada results. Tech includes about a 15-page inspection, Boone explained.
“For Formula SAE, you design the car around a set of rules, and Formula SAE goes through everything to make sure your car is rules-compliant — everything from the firewall and the seats to the chassis and every critical fastener,” he said. “We came prepared and got through our tech inspection really quick.”
Pellissippi State wasn’t spared all the effects of the Las Vegas heat wave, however. During the Acceleration event, which measures the time it takes each car to travel 75 meters, Pellissippi State’s fan broke, causing the car to overheat after one run on the Acceleration course.
While Pellissippi State’s time of 4.5 seconds still netted the team a sixth-place finish in the Acceleration event, that 4.5 seconds was only 4/10 of a second away from a first-place finish, Boone noted — and the car had been testing at 4.1 seconds on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus.
“I think we could have won if we had another run, but we had to let the car cool down,” he said.
Pellissippi State fixed the fan and went on to compete in the other four events: Skid Pad, which tests each car’s cornering capability on a figure-8-shaped course; Autocross, which tests how fast each car can make it around an open course; and Endurance and Efficiency, which test each car’s overall reliability on a 22-kilometer closed course, as well as how much fuel is used during the run.
“When we got there at 6 a.m., it was already 95 degrees,” Boone said. “We were worried about the temperatures, but we managed to keep the car 5 degrees below where the ECU (engine control unit) would have cut off the engine.”
In the end, Pellissippi State was one of few teams in the competition that got to finish all the events, which made Boone proud.
“With the car we had, we did the best we could have done,” he said after the team returned from competition. “There were some technical things we did with the car that we could do differently next time, but this was a good team with good organization and good communication at the competition. Everyone had a job to do.”
Pellissippi State students attending the competition this year included Daniel Ray (powertrain performance), Daniel Rasmussen (composite materials specialist), Ethan Crisp (electrical capstone student) and Zachary Koller (co-captain).
They were joined by UT students Clayton Hickey and Charles Brush, both of whom previously attended Pellissippi State, as well as UT students Charlie Linde, Jeff Cargile and Cooper Jenkins. Cargile and Jenkins designed the race car’s aerodynamic package as their senior design project with fellow UT Aerospace Engineering student Gavin Jones.
All UT students who serve on the team do so as volunteers and pay their own way to competition.
Other Pellissippi State Motorsports team members who worked on the car but did not travel to the competition this year include George Johnson IV of Pellissippi State and Forrest Hamilton, a dual enrollment student who completed his Associate of Applied Science in Welding Technology while completing high school at Knox County’s Career Magnet Academy.
“A lot of it has not been easy, but it was definitely a great experience,” Hamilton said. “There was a lot of going to school and going to work and then coming here and welding for six to eight hours, but it feels good to see so much of it finished. A lot of welding is not small diameter tubes so this has given me so much more confidence.”
Pellissippi State Motorsports is a college-sponsored student club that could not do what it does without additional help from sponsors such as Barton Racing, Daycab Company, Norm and Ann Naylor, Gene Haas Foundation, Dave and Lynne Blair, Morlind Engineering, BHS Corrugated and Endeavor Composites.