GT Motorsports Team Competes in Annual Road Race

As Tech students were finishing up classes in preparation for finals, some were putting the final touches of paint and tweaking the last few bolts on their Formula SAE competition car

As Tech students finished up their semester’s classes in preparation for finals, some were putting the final touches of paint and tweaking the last few bolts on their Formula SAE competition car.

Ken Cunefare
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GT Motorsports unveils its new car on April 30, 2010, in the J. Erskine Love building. GT motorsports is a volunteer organization, comprised of students from many academic units on campus. Kenneth Cunefare is a professor in the school of Mechanical Engineering (ME) and the faculty advisor to the organization.

Completing the final assembly, GT Motorsports unveiled its car in time for the annual SAE Collegiate Design Series competition held at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. The team spent last week road-testing the car, and will compete in events through May 15.

School of Mechanical Engineering Professor Kenneth A. Cunefare has been the faculty advisor for GT Motorsports since 1992. A few days prior to the car’s unveiling, he shared the team’s golden rule: Finish the Car Early.

“The sooner you get the car running, the better,” he said. “I tell the team members you want to break it here. That shows you where the weaknesses are prior to the competition. Once the car is ready, you can get the full team ready.” With the car completed roughly 10 days in advance of the competition, Cunefare was confident the car would be ready to go, barring any unforeseen problems.

The four-day competition is sponsored by (Sociey of Automotive Engineers) SAE International and plays a large role, Cunefare says, in supporting the next generation of engineers. During the events, the team must defend the car’s design and mechanical choices before a panel of judges, show a cost analysis for the vehicle and file a production and marketing schedule for the car.

GT Motorsports is open to all students in all disciplines. “The team needs every discipline a small company would need to be successful,” he said. Students, he says, do not necessarily want to be in the racing industry. But GT Motorsports is helpful in applying what they have learned.

“The complexity of what the students do is amazing,” Cunefare said. The car’s engine is purchased, but can be modified. “So many of the parts—brakes and suspension, for example—are custom-designed. Working as a team gives them directly relevant experience for their careers.”

Following these presentations, the rubber literally hits the road.

Teams showcase their cars’ strengths in several events, including an acceleration test, a skid-pad run, autocross, fuel economy and an endurance event—a 22-kilometer run. “The endurance round is 40 percent of the score,” Cunefare said. “This round tests braking, accelerating, handling, suspension … if the car breaks, it will be here.”

Cunefare says only about one-third of cars finish the endurance round. “About half the time, we don’t finish,” he said. He also describes a great collegiality among competitors, as members of opposing teams will help repair vehicles that are not theirs. Top speed of the vehicles is about 130 miles per hour, but the track layout limits the top speed to about 70.

Last year’s team, however, did finish — in the top 10. In fact, Georgia Tech’s students finished eighth overall, out of 100 teams from all over the world, from Germany, Canada, England, Austria and South America. Other iterations of the Formula SAE competition take place all over the globe. “I tell the teams if we finish in the top five, we’ll go overseas and compete,” Cunefare said. “We’ve been to England three times—won it twice—and went to Australia once. We won.”

While roughly 40 students contribute to the project, 25 are “hardcore” about it, Cunefare says. Anywhere from 20 to 25 students travel to the annual competitions. “When registration opens for this competition [in Michigan], it literally fills up in 10 minutes,” he said. “The top 10 from previous years are guaranteed a space, though.”

Immediately after the competition, Cunefare says students will select the leadership for next year. On the drive back, they begin the design specifications. “Over the summer, students will design the body and chassis,” he said. “In the fall, they’ll step up recruiting efforts.” By the winter break, the design specs are finalized, and the spring semester is spent only on vehicle fabrication.

Cunefare, who is the faculty advisor for GT Offroad and Wreck Racing, also advises the mechanical engineering senior capstone design class, co-teaches a course on hybrid/electric power trains with the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and is the co-developer of the Integrated Acoustics Laboratory.