Racing The Wheels Off!

We’ve repeatedly said this is a design event, but 40% of the overall score (and 100% of the bragging rights) is rooted in the endurance race.

WorkDSC_5941S&T Racing has been firing on all cylinders all year. They overcame blown engines, a shortage of suitable testing grounds, and even a door falling of their trailer on the highway. We talked about Saturday’s boring operations, and we’re told last month’s Michigan event was the same for S&T. No drama, no shouting or panic, just smooth teamwork and operations.

That’s not to say things didn’t go wrong. Possible fuel starvation cost the Miners some points in Friday’s autocross event, one that S&T usually dominates. Rather than panic these students relied on their teammates’ expertise and judgment to solve the problem. Was the fuel problem related to G-forces? Maybe, but the data (not the SWAG) called for a new fuel regulator and filter. Problem solved, like the seasoned professionals they are.

Over 60 international teams qualified for the endurance race, and SAE Invitational was hoping over 50% of the teams would complete the event; it’s that tough. Slower teams, usually the less-experienced schools, start in the morning and the excitement and performance builds when the perennial powers take the stage in the afternoon.

Asked about S&T’s endurance race strategy, driver Alex Mills said “we aren’t content with repeating last year’s 3rd place finish or just completing the endurance race. We have a great car and we want to go all out for the #1 spot. We made the design finals but 7th out of ten finalists left us only in 6th place overall prior to the endurance race. We have to go all out to win.”

WheelSUN_9228To the surprise of all, several of the powerhouse teams faired badly, leaving the door wide open for the Miners to climb in the rankings. Auburn, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) all had problems, ranging from a flat tire to a blown engine. Illinois slid to a halt when a rear wheel fell off, rolling all the way to the barriers in front of the grandstands. Mizzou played it a little safer and managed to keep running, even avoiding the Illini wheel rolling through the course.

Soon it was Kansas, Michigan, Texas A&M, and Missouri S&T fighting for dominance. The Aggies’ undersized car and the Wolverines’ massive winged machine were setting extremely fast laps, with Kansas just a second or two behind. Alex Mills was setting faster and faster lap times before handing the controls over to Caleb Alne to finish strong, maybe set the fastest lap, and win the race.
S&TEnduro1SUN_9309The car was doing great, but drama was unfolding elsewhere. Michigan’s massive (did we say really massive?) front wing began to crumple and drag the ground. They were black-flagged in yet inexplicably allowed to continue, to the great displeasure of the Kansas Jayhawks who kept getting stuck behind Big Blue’s now-slower beast. Their chance of winning the race was wiped out by another team’s problems. Such is racing, unfortunately.

S&T’s go-for-broke race strategy was paying dividends until, back in a far corner of the track, #3 suddenly stopped cold. The Miners’ right front wheel spokes had shattered, sending tire and rim spinning across the spot where the Illini had earlier suffered the same fate.
When the Miners towed the car back to the pits, there was no weeping, no crushed egos, no finger-pointing; just a steel-eyed look of determination to start the process over and come back next year.

And that, dear friends, is a success story, no matter what the final score says.