2011 Formula Hybrid Competition Lessons Learned

One of the most noticeable aspects of the 2011 Formula Hybrid Competition has been the struggle of the majority of teams to get their cars ready. Originally, 33 teams from 5 different countries registered for the event, but only 21 registrants showed up with cars. The teams that didn’t make the trip include teams with strong cars in previous years, like the 2010 champion Turin, Yale, Wisconsin, and Colorodo State. While the actual reasons for some of the dropouts are unknown, we do know that students on some of those teams were struggling to complete their vehicles.

Out of the 20 that did show up, only Texas A&M was able to complete the acceleration runs yesterday morning. UC Davis also did an unlimited acceleration run, but the event closed before they were able to do their electric-only. Given the time constraints of the competition, the decision was made to close the event as scheduled, rather than extend it.

As day 3 progressed, several other teams went through inspection and turned their cars on for the first time. Several theories have been thrown around as to why the cars are so far behind where they were last year. Some are speculating that funding is down this year. One thought is that the teams just haven’t realized importance of schedule. Another idea is that the mechanical and electrical inspections have been too strict.

We spent several hours interviewing teams, technical inspectors, and others to gather information and identify lessons to be learned. Some of the items are recurring from year to year and others seem more specific to 2011. These lessons don’t necessarily reflect the views of the event organizers, but are items that we noticed over the week.

Recurring team issues:
– Lack of electrical engineers: Several teams went the whole year with only 1 or 2 electrical engineers responsible for that entire aspect of the car. One team told us they had several electrical engineers bail on them in the weeks leading up to the competition. This is an underlying issue with many formula hybrid teams. They need dedicated fundraisers and leadership, but it’s hard to find people willing to put in the long hours and commitment for little or no school credit.
– Personnel turnover: One of the biggest problems each year is how the teams recruit younger students and pass along the information necessary to create a successful car. As seniors graduate, they take with them a lot of the knowledge and experience garnered over the course of their years working on the car.

2011 team issues:
– Ambition: One common thread we found this year was the ambitiousness of teams. Ambition is awesome and necessary, but it needs to be tempered with an understanding of what is realistic to achieve. Partly due to the great competition last year with strong teams such as Turin, Texas A&M, and UC Davis, teams felt pressure to improve their cars. Teams set the bar high last year and that encouraged more ambition in the initial designs of 2011 cars.
– Lack of understanding/reading rules: Several teams took extra time in mechanical and electrical tech inspection due to not noticing some of the rules changes. Additionally, as the competition comes of age, the inspections are getting stricter and more stringent. Issues that were given leniency in years past were more strictly enforced this year. Teams do have the option of emailing the rules committee for clarification and specific information. We did talk to some teams which utilized this feature of the forums successfully. However, one school also notified us that they had tried unsuccessfully to get a few questions answered in the fall.

Recurring competition issues:
– Timing: In years past, there have been technical difficulties with timing and transponders. This year was no different during acceleration and autocross runs. In order for the competition to have more legitimacy, these issues need to be solved.
– Lack of communication: The PA system is generally used for announcements in the track area. This is not the most effective means to communicate information to the teams in the paddock where power tools and engines are constantly running. For example, this morning, teams were penalized for failing to report for endurance at their allotted time, but the run order was not posted until approximately 11, 2 hours after the official event start at 9 am.

2011 competition issues:
– Location of tilt, brake test, and acceleration: This year, the tilt table was at one end of the paddock, the brake test was at the other end, and the acceleration runs were back by the tilt table. This made it logistically hard for teams who were trying to pass tech and compete in acceleration yesterday morning. Cal Poly SLO passed tilt and noise, ran over to the braking area and passed, and then was running back over to the acceleration track as the event was closed. UC Davis only had time to run a single unlimited run before the close of the event. It can be argued that teams should be prepared earlier — which is true — but the competition should be set up in a way that facilitates quick movement between stations.

As the competition continues to grow, there are challenges that must be identified and overcome. The combination of the evolving status of the competition and the general unpreparedness of teams this year resulted in a decrease in the participation of teams in dynamic events from last year.

We would like to applaud this year’s teams for all their efforts and challenge them to inspire returning and new members to continue to set the bar higher in all aspects each year.

We would like to thank the Formula Hybrid organizers, especially Doug Fraser and Wynne Washburn, for their dedication to the event. They’ve put in countless hours planning and implementing the 2011 competition.

Thank you to all of the technical inspectors, judges, and volunteers for taking the time to come out and help. Their enthusiasm for the event is truly awesome.

In addition, a big thank you to all those who sponsored this year’s event, as well as the companies sponsoring individual teams. None of this would have been possible without any of you.

In conclusion, thanks for welcoming us back as alumni of the Dartmouth Formula Racing team. As always, it was an incredibly fun and inspiring event, and we really enjoyed every minute! Thanks for reading,

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