Matador Motorsports continues their drive to the top

Alyssa Lofgren

The Student Automotive Engineering team (Formula SAE), also known as Matador Motorsports, has started this year well. The team is inspired and ready to surpass their most recent victory, the high placement of last semester’s team, placing seventh out of 80 teams in an open-wheeled formula-style racecar challenge.

When the team placed seventh at the Formula SAE West Competition in Fontana, Calif., in June, they set the record for the highest placement in the CSUN Formula SAE’s racing history.

CSUN’s previous highest score was in 2003, when the team ranked 10 out of 140 teams. In 2006, they scored 23 out of 70.

When the last semester’s team placed seventh in June, they were the only CSU campus to make the top ten.

The Formula SAE competition is centered on the concept of creating a fictitious manufacturing firm to produce a prototype car.

Many members of the new 2007 team also participated in last year’s team design. As members of a senior design project, they have already been hard at work designing and building a car that will go even further in this year’s competitions.

Headed by junior business major Matt Powell, who serves as the team captain, the team consists of 18 members enrolled in a credit course through the department of engineering, called the senior design project. Several engineering alumni also volunteer, using their previous experience to help contribute to the current project.

Most of the members of Matador Motorsports are engineering majors, other than team captain Powell. They work extremely long hours in a 5,000 square foot shop in Jacaranda Hall, sometimes staying late into the night and working on weekends.

“There are times when we don’t go home for two days straight,” said Enrique Chavez, mechanical engineering major. “The bottom line is, if you can’t finish the car, you can’t compete.”

Such intense dedication to the SAE project can only be fueled by a deep passion and love for learning.

“I love cars and I’ve always loved cars,” Chavez said.

“I enjoy the opportunity to work in a team setting, and it’s the best project at school because you don’t get any closer to engineering than this. Not only that, it’s fun,” he said.

It being fun is what keeps alumni coming back.

“They’re very involved with the team, and they have a lot of contacts, so they’re helpful for helping us secure sponsorship,” Chavez said.

“It’s such a unique project because you can’t do this everywhere,” said Alumni international student from Israel Tomer Hendel. “Eventually you get to drive the car, and compete against schools from all over the world. The guys that are here are passionate because it truly is a great project.”

Although the team receives a certain amount of money from the department per semester, fundraising can be a struggle.

A private donor has been their biggest supporter, and there are several sponsors that contribute yearly, but there is always a need for more money with such a complex project.

“The more money you have, the more advanced equipment you can get,” Powell said.

The Associated Students and the University Corporation have supplied funding for Formula SAE in the past. The team usually sends a few members to attend A.S. Senate meetings and request grants to help secure funding.

“We’re not fighting desperately for money and we have enough for critical supplies, but more always helps,” Powell said. “This is a pretty specific project, and our history of success makes for good outreach for the university.”

Building a winning car doesn’t come cheap, though. Last year’s budget for supplies and vehicle components was just over $39,000. This includes things like machining tools, driver equipment, fuel, the body and chassis of the car, electronics, wheels and tires.

While some companies donate the parts needed for free or at cost, it’s often not enough to cover every expense the Formula SAE team experiences.

In addition to parts, the team has to consider general expenses such as event registration, vehicle shipping, student travel and the printing and duplication of event materials. In the 2006-2007 budget, this averaged above $11,000.

Companies or donors that do provide sponsorship are rewarded well with a certain amount of endorsement, from publicity on the Matador Motorsports website, tax deductible donations and decals on the body of the car, sponsors are thanked graciously for their financial support.

Some past sponsors of the Matador Motorsports team includes Thermal Technologies, Galpin Ford, Haas Automation and Bogart Racing Wheels.

Adequate funding helps Matador Motorsports to keep accomplishing their goals. The team has clarified their top three goals as winning, a 10 percent weight loss in the bulk of the car and reliability of the car and team.

Every time the team tries harder to reach first, the time and resources each member must commit.

Many of the team members said that the most difficult part of working on the team was the time commitment it required.

Powell said as team captain, he works in the lab six days a week, anywhere from 10-11 hours per day. Team members joke that the university might start charging rent, based on how frequently the lab is in use.

“When I was on the team, I hardly saw people outside of the lab. I was here 12-15 hours a day,” said Shahin Khalili, graduating senior and Iranian international student.

“It’s a lot of time, but we’re learning professionally. We get to learn from other people on the team. People are using people as resources – things you learn in months of research, you can learn in a day,” Khalili said.

A beneficial perk of team member’s fierce dedication to their project is the possibility of immediate hire right after graduation. Sponsors of the team receive a resume book at the end of the fiscal year including a list of the team member’s resumes. Many graduates who participate in the Formula SAE team go on to obtain high-paying jobs at prestigious automotive companies.

The fall 2007 Formula SAE team is already hard at work planning preliminary designs for their next car. They are working on securing funding and donations for the project, and are planning to score even higher in the next competition.

“We were really proud when we placed so high at the Fontana Speedway, but we were hoping for better as well,” Khalili said. “When you place that high, it means you’re that much closer to first.”

Do you have more to say than a comment? Want any feedback from the writer? Story ideas? Head to The Gripevine.