Yale team racing to glory

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No caption. Photo by Emily Foxhall.

When Henry Misas ’10 set out to help a Yale team build a race car during his sophomore year, he did not even know how to use a wrench.

Now Misas is leading the Bulldogs Racing Team, 13 members strong, to build a race car that will be entered in an international formula hybrid competition annually sponsored by SAE International, a professional organization for vehicle engineers. At the competition, which will be held in Loudon, N.H., from May 3 to May 6, the team will be racing their car against about 30 teams from other universities.

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The competition gives teams scores based on the car’s design and its performances in a series of races, including an autocross (in which the car must navigate a series of cones) and a skid pad race (in which the car must lap a ring of cones).

According to the competition’s Web site, there is no monetary prize for winning. But if the team wins, there’s always “eternal glory,” Misas said.

THE FIRST LAP

When mechanical engineering professor John Morrell ’86, who serves as the team’s faculty advisor, decided last year not to have his mechanical design class build a race car in the spring semester as they had for the previous two years, Misas and Kamil Wasilewski GRD ’09, a student from Morrell’s laboratory, decided to take on the project and build a hybrid car from scratch.

The pair, which became five people by the end of the school year, managed to raise $17,000 — $10,000 of which came from the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science — and often headed straight to their garage every day after class, staying until midnight.

“Even when you go back to your room to do homework, you only think about the car,” Misas said. “It’s so cool that your classes just come to a secondary level.”

But the project proved too large and they chose not to compete in last year’s competition. Although the team spent two weeks alternating between working on the car and napping in nearby libraries, they did not finish until the day of the competition, too tired to drive the car or even pack, Misas said.

Nonetheless, Misas said building the car last year was an amazing experience, prompting him to try again the following year.

“Even if the last two months were so exhausting, it was up there with one of the best times that I’ve had in my life,” he said.

RACE CAR REDUX

This year’s team has poured hours upon hours of work into designing and constructing a car for the competition, Misas said. The team began with preliminary designs for the body of the car using computer-aided design programs. Rough versions of each design were built out of materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. The team tested at least 50 car frame models to see how strong they would be, he said.

“You cannot put yourself in the computer and into the little design that you did, so you build it quickly and put yourself in this frame,” Misas explained.

The group then tackled the car’s suspension, which is responsible for how the car rides and handles, and the powertrain, which are the components that help the car move. For the competition, the rules mandate that the vehicle must be a hybrid, meaning that a gas engine and a electrical system must work together to power the car.

“There’s no clean, easy way to do it,” Misas said.

Yale staff members and other professionals have taught the group members how to perform the various tasks associated with building a car, such as welding the frame or constructing a carbon fiber body. Dave Campaniello, a composite specialist working independently, has been one of the team’s advisers, helping primarily with constructing the body.

“These guys kind of tracked me down and through their enthusiasm convinced me that I should help them out,” Campaniello said. “They’re extremely dedicated, extremely motivated people. No question.”

Because the group has been working with an $8,000 budget — last year’s winning team from Texas A&M University worked on a minimum annual budget of $50,000 — Misas said the team has been extremely appreciative of Campaniello’s time. The Yale team has found ways to get around their limited budget by using the same frame and engine as well as a majority of the suspension components from last year’s race car, which never made it into competition.

With slightly more than a month remaining before the contest, club members have been coming in to the back garage of Yale’s Mason Laboratory on Hillhouse Avenue at least every other day to work. Two members, Misas said, also devoted a week of their spring break to the project. And unlike the club’s first attempt to compete last year, the team is on track to have a finished car well before the morning of the competition date, he added.

New team members said they have enjoyed their experience on the team. Because building the race car is no longer associated with a course credit, Morrell said team members are driven entirely by love and passion for the project.

Art major Kirill Miniaev ’12, who has a concentration in graphic design, joined the team this fall with no background in mechanical engineering other than his father’s stories about building go-karts as a child.

“I came to Yale and didn’t know anything about the club,” Miniaev said. “And then during the club fair there was this car just sitting out in Beinecke Plaza and I thought it was really cool.”

Keila Fong ’13 said the club has allowed her to learn a lot of engineering skills.

The group plans to be finished with building within the next two weeks, Misas said. They will devote the remainder of their time before the competition to testing the car and working out as many problems as they can, he added.

“We’re trying to make our car something that [allows] people to get a better perspective of what the engineers here are doing,” team member Aaron Fuchs ’10 said.

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