Sun Devil Motorsports team speeds onto the international stage
In the final seconds of every motorsports race, all eyes are drawn to the driver zooming past the checkered flag at the finish line. Though they stand alone on the podium to accept the trophy, the win does not belong to only the driver. Each victory is possible thanks to the time and energy of engineers that develop the vehicle before it ever reaches the track.
Sun Devil Motorsports, or SDM, an ASU student organization affiliated with the Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, is a student-run automotive racing team that embraces every aspect of the motorsports experience by building, testing and racing its own formula-style race cars. The team constructs a new car each year to race at the Formula SAE student competition against more than 100 teams from around the world.
Formula racing involved competitively racing a single-seat, open-cockpit and open-wheel racing car with distinct front and rear wings, commonly seen in Indy 500 or Formula One racing.
Producing a competitive car requires thorough planning in the areas of aerodynamics, brakes, finances, training, marketing, data acquisition and much more. SDM’s team functions beyond the realms of a standard club; like a business, it requires a range of interdisciplinary skills.
Josh Huggett, chief operations officer of SDM and an undergraduate student majoring in supply chain management and business sustainability, believes what sets SDM apart from other student organizations is members’ shared interest in auto racing and commitment to developing their skills for future careers.
“We are doing real work — the type of experience students need to prepare for any type of internship or career,” Huggett says. “There’s a position on our team for every major out there. If one doesn’t exist right now, we can make it.”
With more than 140 student members from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the W. P. Carey School of Business, ASU’s Formula SAE chapter is one of the largest in the country.
Erin Lorentsen, a mechanical engineering student and member of SDM’s drivetrain team, who makes the system that controls the car’s wheels, says it was the perfect environment for her to gain hands-on experience in engineering.
“When I joined, I had no real mechanical or automotive experience,” Lorentsen says. “I had been looking for an engineering club to join.”
At the student engagement fair, the SDM booth instantly caught her attention.
“At the time, I had only recently developed an interest in cars and motorsports, but my team members were always willing to help teach me along the way,” Lorentsen says.
She is now pursuing graduate studies in ASU’s Accelerated Master’s degree program in mechanical engineering and aspires to work in the automotive industry.
Competition and career preparation
This year, the Formula SAE student competition will take place in Brooklyn, Michigan, on May 17 through 20. Hunter Quinlan, SDM’s lead composites manufacturing engineer and an undergraduate student majoring in marketing, insists that the competition is worth the yearlong preparation.
“The Formula SAE competition at Michigan International Speedway is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is the highlight of any college student’s career,” Quinlan says. “Being in the paddocks with your car surrounded by Fortune 500 companies and thousands of talented student engineers creates a large networking environment. It creates a sense of excitement and camaraderie you can’t find anywhere else.”
The team unveiled this year’s car, the SDM23, on April 8, at the Podium Club at Attesa, a motorsports club in Casa Grande. The team invited spectators to watch test sessions and speak with the team.
“Working with places like the Podium Club motivates the team because they want to promote this passion for motorsports and they see us as the future of the field,” Quinlan says. “Many of us are going into the motorsports industry because we are either engineers or businesspeople.”
For members who aspire to a career in engineering, building the car is synonymous with building their resumes.
At the 2022 Student Formula SAE competition, SDM member George Kostadinov was offered a job due to his exceptional work developing the carbon fiber for the team’s racecar.
“We rolled our team’s car over to the judging tent, and before the judge could introduce himself or ask us for our names, he asked who designed the carbon fiber,” Quinlan recalls. “George raised his hand and the judge asked if George wanted to work for his company. The judge said he didn’t need any information about George’s background because he knew everything he needed just from the carbon fiber in front of him.”
Andrew Westerhoff, an SDM member and mechanical engineering undergraduate student, turned his designs for the SDM23’s aerodynamic drag reduction system, known as DRS, into his senior capstone project. DRS is used to change the shape of the car’s rear wing to adjust for wind resistance, which can significantly enhance a car’s speed.
“After seeing a few of the top performing cars in previous years running a DRS system, I decided to try to implement one for our team,” Westerhoff says. “Designing this type of system comes with challenges because it operates across so many systems in the car, but it’s amazing to see it come together in the SDM23 and see everyone’s work pay off.”
The team is eager to show the SDM23 on an international stage and put its car to the test.
“There’s so much opportunity here for students of any background to get involved,” Huggett says. “I’m happy that we’ve been able to get more people interested in motorsports and built this community that is about so much more than engineering.”