Zero to 100

Queen’s Formula SAE Team on right track as they build racecar for international competition 

The Queen’s Formula SAE's 2015 racecar.
The Queen’s Formula SAE's 2015 racecar.
Supplied by Queen's Formula SAE Team

Not many students get to go 0 to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds.

But if you go into McLaughlin Hall, turn right and go down the stairs, you’ll find a bewildering labyrinth of machinery, guarded by an authoritative sign that demands that all who enter wear safety glasses. Welcome to the fast lane. 

The Queen’s Formula SAE Team is an engineering design team that builds formula-style racecars to compete in three annual international competitions.  

Besides designing and building the vehicle, team members drive it in timed events — at breakneck speeds. 

“You feel everything. It’s nothing like a road car. You feel every single bump, and every single turn,” Robert Teseo, lead of vehicle dynamics, said. 

“We’re faster than Ferraris,” Bogdan Mateescu, director of operations, added. 

The cars themselves take over 10,000 hours to build. 

“From the conception of the design to the actual finished product ... a lot of it isn’t exactly easy work,” Teseo, Sci ’17, said. 

But he says the team always has each other’s backs. 

“It’s not your boss telling you to do something,” he said. “It’s your buddy saying, ‘Ok, let’s do this.’”

Queen’s competes in two SAE-sanctioned events each year in Michigan and Nebraska and one sub-SAE competition, Formula North, in Barrie. 

These events have the sound of every car lover’s dream.  

“Teams from all over the States, some European teams, are all in the middle, all their cars side by side, with all of our gear, working on our cars,”  Technical Director Shan Mufti, said.  

According to Teseo and Mateescu, the German teams are especially intense. 

But before a car even gets to competition, it goes through a testing and data collection phase at Shannonville Motorsport Park where the team practices driving and the car’s components are tuned and analyzed to make sure it’s as fast as it can be. 

“It’s fun to drive, but it also takes a toll on your body because it’s so aggressive,” Mufti, Sci ’17, said. 

After feeling relatively comfortable driving for the first time, Mufti was surprised when his teammates suggested they now try it in second gear. 

“That was a lot more fun,” he said.

But for Teseo, he didn’t even notice his speed the first time he practiced on one of these track days — there was too much going on.

“I didn’t even want to try it in second gear the first time,” Teseo said. “That was just way too much power. Every time I put my foot on the gas, it would just spin out. It was nuts.” 

Some of the team’s graduates have gone on to become professional drivers, including Dalton Kellett, Sci ’15, who now drives in the Indy Lights racecar series. 

During the construction of the car, the team has to adhere to a huge rulebook that specifies how almost every component of the car is built to protect drivers from poor workmanship.  

Despite their cars’ consistent high quality, the team has had some close shaves at competition. Last year, on the team’s first day of competition, their drive shaft — the integral part that connects the engine to the wheel — broke. Luckily, the team had thought to make a spare the day before.

“These things happen, and you have to account for them happening,” Teseo said. “Because something will always go wrong. And you just pray, you just make sure that it’s not something that’s going to hurt the driver.” 

The potential for parts falling off is why each car goes through an intense technical examination before the team is allowed to compete, including tilting it on a 45 to 60 degree angle to make sure nothing leaks out. 

“[The judges] really know their stuff. And they will tear you apart if you don’t,” Mufti said.

The competition itself is a series of static (design) and dynamic (racing) events that each team is scored on. 

The last day of the competition is the endurance event — the most grueling part for both the car and the driver. The event involves two drivers doing 10 laps each for a total of 22 km.  

“A lot of teams, the car is fine for a couple laps, but the real test of it is whether your car is overheating by the end ... or the driver is really uncomfortable,” Teseo said. 

“[For] any team — even the best teams — something will go wrong. Every time.” 

“When you fix it, it’s all worth it in the end. But when it goes wrong, you have a mini-heart attack there for a minute,” he said. 

The static events include a cost analysis, as well as design and business presentations. 

“You treat this as a chance to build a car that would target automotive enthusiasts,” Mateescu, Comm ’17, CompSci ‘18, said. “You know your target market is someone around the age of 30 to 40, who has disposable income and is a track enthusiast.” 

The team’s members fit the last criteria to a T. 

“I had a huge passion for cars when I was a kid,” Mufti said. “Here you can actually design, build and test your own product, which is really insane. It’s not stuff you can do outside of school, or a team like this.”

“I grew up in Qatar, which has a fairly decent street racing scene,” Mateescu said. “Basically, I’m really passionate about cars, and I can’t wait to drive this thing.”

According to Mateescu, the team receives ample support from the administration, alumni and corporate sponsors.  

“You can’t go on the Internet and Google ‘How to manage a Formula team,” Mateescu said. 

“For me and for everyone on the team, we are very grateful for the support that we have from people who understand what we’re trying to do here.” 

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