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Vols Help Pellissippi State Motorsports Place Sixth in Formula SAE Competition

race in las vegas

Pellissippi State Motorsports, a club comprised of both Pellissippi State Community College and UT students, traveled to Las Vegas in June to compete in the international Formula SAE competition, where they placed sixth overall as well as sixth in the acceleration event against 36 teams.

The competition is organized by SAE International and challenges teams of undergraduate and graduate students from universities around the world to conceive, design, fabricate, develop, and compete with small, formula-style vehicles. Pellissippi State Motorsports was the only team from a community college in the competition and they ended up finishing ahead of larger four-year universities including Purdue, West Virginia, and Mississippi State.

Pellissippi State Motorsports was founded by UT mechanical engineering student Christian Boone in 2018 while he was a student at Pellissippi State. He now serves as an engineering lab technician at the college.

Pelli Motorsports teamOther UT engineering students who helped this year were team volunteers Clayton Hickey, Charlie Linde, and Charles Brush, as well as Gavin Jones, Jeffrey Cargile, Cooper Jenkins, and Liece Tessman, who were part of the MABE senior design team and designed the car’s aerodynamic package. Senior Lecturer Rob Bond was the advisor for the senior design team.

2019 was the first year the team competed and, due to an issue with the engine, they finished 95th out of 109 teams with an overall score of 181.4. This year’s performance was significantly better with an overall score of 378.7, almost 200 points higher. The 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID.

The team started working to improve the car’s performance last August.

“We were down to 465 pounds by incorporating lighter materials and being more careful with the choice of hardware we made,” said Boone. “We also had a launch traction control that helped us get off the line quicker.”

One thing the team wasn’t prepared for was the heat in Las Vegas. Temperatures reached 115 and higher every day. Several competitors passed out from the heat, and Formula SAE was forced to revise the schedule. Teams had to get their cars through tech and safety checks and complete the competition’s four events from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The shortened scheduled knocked 14 teams out of the competition because their cars never made it out of the tech check.

“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,” said Boone. “We came prepared and got through our tech inspection really quick.”

The heat did cause some issues with the team’s car, though. Its fan broke during the Acceleration course causing it to overheat after only one run on the course. They sill managed to place sixth in that competition.

After repairing the fan, the team was able to compete in the other three events which included Skid Pad, Autocross, and Endurance and Efficiency.

“When we got there at 6 a.m., it was already 95 degrees,” said Boone. “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.”

Pellissippi State Motorsports ended up being one of only a few teams in the competition to finish all the events.

“With the car we had, we did the best we could have done,” said Boone. “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.”