Racing In A Winter Wonderland

The Michigan Formula SAE Collegiate Design competition is always a weather crapshoot. It’s early spring in the northern tier states and blasts of cold air are not uncommon so event veterans come prepared for anything. Students new to the event? Not so much.
What they got for ’16 was pretty much everything. Wind chills hovering at freezing, round after round of driving, biting sleet and a whopping downpour mixed in to chill the bones of even the hardiest soul.
In short, Saturday’s endurance finale was miserable for sponsors, spectators and pit crews alike but one event judge said “the drivers LOVE to run in the rain!” Should we ever thaw one out we’ll ask if that was the case.
The enduro course is a proving ground, designed to weed out/wear out weaker designs that might not be able to hold up to what the theoretical customers might do to the cars when they enter the market. It’s a grueling event for drivers and machines alike.
Aside from the miserable precipitation many teams may have benefited from the colder temps. The slower run groups usually have higher attrition rates. Could be something as simple as inexperience or smaller budgets that prevent some teams from reaching the performance levels of some schools (ahem!) MINERS! that consistently run in the top 20% of the rankings, but we’re guessing the cold winds took some of the load off of engine cooling systems. With such a high percentage of teams finishing endurance it took a LOT longer to run 100+ cars through the course. By the time the fastest dozen or so cars hit the track it was nearly 6:00 p.m., some three hours later than usual.
Mizzou’s group took the brunt of the weather mess. At the storm’s peak the race was halted when conditions became unsafe; drivers couldn’t see where they were going. Problem was the drivers had to remain in in their open cockpits until the storm passed. No word on whether their fire-proof racing suits were also designed for the cold….
By the time S&T hit the track visibility had improved, but the standing water was still a big factor. Derek Martin opened the Miners’ effort by throwing rooster-geysers into cars foolish enough to get too close. As track conditions gradually improved Caleb Alne set out to scorch-dry the track all by himself, passing several of the other top drivers in an all-out effort to climb in the dynamic points totals.
With just a half lap to go Caleb’s front wing sent a cone flying and peeled a carbon-fiber panel left flapping in the wind, but somehow it stayed attached. Had it torn off Car #16 might have been black-flagged just a few hundred yards from the finish. Every Miner there held their breath to the point of passing out, just hoping Caleb, who probably didn’t realize the damage, could nurse “Holly” to the checkered flag.

And Caleb nailed it, capping a surge from 13th in the pre-enduro standings to a 7th place finish out of some 117 formula design teams. That earned them a small trophy and a big dinner invitation from SpaceX recruiters! It’s pretty much guaranteed Alex Mills’ team asked SpaceX folks to raise a glass in memory of Joe Boze.

Rain? Cold? They don’t remember anything like that.


  1. Linda Bright says

    Great job Missouri S&T!!! 7th place finish is awesome!