The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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A Formula For Success: CSUN’s FSAE team builds for the future

Rodrigo Hernandez
Students from the F1 team work on their car in Northridge, Calif.

Doing your homework is hard enough. Now, imagine your assignment is to construct a Formula One-style race car that goes head-to-head in an international competition against other universities.

While this may sound like the plot for a “Fast and Furious” spinoff, this is the reality for CSUN’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) team, a senior design class that puts all the students’ knowledge to the ultimate challenge. Over the course of the school year, the students work together as a company to manage, manufacture, design, and test their vehicle as part of FSAE.

The competition tasks teams to work as a mock business, where they run their cars on the track in various events alongside a showcase of entrepreneurial skills in presentations for design, cost and business planning. The team, also known as Matador Motorsports, has a fresh outlook and plans to maintain their successful record. In May 2023, they placed 15th out of 120 schools overall and were in the top five for California. In 2021, the team took home fifth place at the national SAE competition in Nevada.

The 2023 car, “Shaquira,” built by the Matador Motorsports team. The crew that year decided to design the car after the classic McLaren MP4/2, which featured a Marlboro logo and color scheme. (Rodrigo Hernandez)

Project manager Elizabeth Murillo has been part of the crew for two years, and is bringing her experiences from working on the previous project to her role as this year’s leader. Murillo’s main goal as project manager is to prioritize organization and planning. With thorough preparation, Murillo expects the team to excel with ample time for testing and making adjustments while bringing awareness to FSAE.

“People think that we’re only mechanics, but we’ve been studying mechanical engineering for four years, so that includes thermal classes, fluids, dynamics, structures, material science, electronics—we do a little bit of everything,” Murillo says.

On top of having a coordinated workflow, there is an aspect of fundraising and acquiring sponsors that is vital for the team’s success. On average, each team spends around $70,000 to $80,000 each year.

This year’s chief financial officer is Leonel Hernandez, a first-generation student who quickly learned the business strategies of automotive marketing, despite having a background in mechanical engineering.

Funding has been a challenge for the team due to a lack of monetary connections previous teams had, which came from family members at high-level businesses, according to Hernandez.

“It’s on-brand for what we do,” says Hernandez. “CSUN students are known for being a scrappy, ragtag group that gets it done.”

So far, the group has raised $12,000 through donations and funding, with another $22,000 coming from CSUN. Despite the funding from the school, the team relies on fundraising because the money goes quickly, according to Hernandez. To raise money, the team employs grassroots tactics such as selling raffle tickets and tamales.

The driver’s seat of the 2022-2023 car built by the Matador Motorsports team. The team keeps the vehicles from previous years to continually test performance and repurpose parts. (Rodrigo Hernandez)

“If we get all the funding through that, you can say that the car will literally be powered by tamales,” Hernandez says.

This sense of community and pride in culture comes from the team’s majority of Latino students. Embracing one’s identity is encouraged, shares Murillo, who aims to promote the community aspect of the team.

“I’m trying to make it more personal because we have a lot of underrepresented people here, and it would be nice to show that we can do the same thing that anybody else can for a small CSU,” Murillo says.

As the only female student out of 27 in the senior design class, Murillo includes representation as another goal for her leadership. Murillo says that by taking this position, she hopes that more women are encouraged to join the field and be taken seriously.

However, by implementing an atmosphere of pride and productivity, Murillo said she feels more at ease, because she is around people in the same culture. The comfort found in the team’s Latino identity resulted in Murillo receiving the lighthearted nickname of “La Jefa,” which means “the boss.”

“She’s our boss. Whatever she says goes,” says Austin Gomez, another second-year member of the team, serving as the lead for drivetrain and manufacturing.

Gomez recalled his experience about the rushed production of last year’s car as a test of perseverance. The team was sleeping three to four hours a night to get the vehicle completed in time for competition. Gomez said some students would not even go home for the night, and that they would shower at the Student Recreation Center.

Signatures from the 2022-2023 team that built “Shaquira.” The car was named after Shaquille O’Neal and Shakira because of the car’s assigned number for that year and because “it’s hips didn’t lie.” (Rodrigo Hernandez)

To avoid last season’s time crunch and pressure, Gomez is working closely with the other five teams that make up Matador Motorsports to

get a head start on the new vehicle’s design and needs. Aside from drivetrain and manufacturing, the teams include aerodynamics, chassis, controls, engine, and suspension.

The car is constructed on campus in Jacaranda Hall, with 80%-85% being manufactured in-house. This includes everything from the wiring of the electronics to welding the frame of the car. The only items that are not student-made are the engine, seat, springs, and tires. The team uses Haas Automation, Inc. machines, a gift from CSUN alumnus and company founder Gene Haas.

“It gives us an edge compared to other schools, and it helps us as students understand what’s possible, since the machine can only do so much,” Gomez said.

Registered as #45, the team is preparing for the FSAE international competition held in Brooklyn, Michigan, in May 2024. The final design and name for the car is still up in the air, but if last year’s car is any indication, the name will be witty.

Last year’s car was named “Shaquira.” The “Shaq” came from the car’s number, 34, and the “Shakira” aspect came about because, as Gomez aptly put it, “The car’s hips didn’t lie.”

With the mindset of running the program like an actual company and being mindful of every aspect of the competition, Matador Motorsports is hoping to continue their standings in the races and presentations.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but we should be in the top 10 for sure,” Murillo said. “We have a really good team this year, and CSUN has always done well, so I think we’re going to keep making it big.”


Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the car.

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