At one point or another, most people fantasize about being a racecar driver. For some, it may have come while watching Formula 1 early in the morning. Others may have dangerously felt the urge while out with their driving instructor, who gripped his seat with white knuckles as they sped through a turn at a busy intersection.
The McMaster Formula Hybrid team is a student-run organization full of people with the desire to actually engineer and design such a car. Composed primarily of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering students, the team has been in operation in some form or another since the 1980s and has been making waves since they switched their focus to producing a hybrid vehicle in 2011.
The team boasts over 100 members who are interspersed into a variety of factions — Chassis, Suspension, Brakes and Pedal Tray, Powertrain, High Voltage, Low Voltage, Safety and Business — each with their own specific concerns. Due to the complex nature of the work being done, members are required to be specialized in a certain area.
Since 2012, the team has been entering into a competition staged by Dartmouth in New Hampshire each year. The event is an international one and is open to all schools (provided that they can round up the registration fee) and typically draws some of the brightest young minds in the industry.
The hybrid category is billed as the most challenging on the event’s website due to the stringent demands it makes on competitor’s time, leaving them little opportunity for other activities. McMaster placed third behind only Yale and Lawrence Technological University in the hybrid division last year.
As a result of the intensive nature of the work being done, Suspension Captain Barry Mason says the team is only filled with the most dedicated of students with the slackers weeding themselves out.
Speaking as someone who normally logs 35-40 hours on the project every week, he said that you get out what you put in.
Captain of both Aerodynamics and Business Administration Zachary Lanoue, compounded that point, noting that the time you thought you didn’t have will manifest itself if you really love doing it.
These McMaster students are devoting all their waking hours not spent in class either at their shop or turning over problems they’re working on in their heads. But rather than detracting from their studies, Lanoue said it has only served to help them with their schoolwork.
“While we do spend a lot of time working on the car — sometimes more than 40 hours a week — a lot of what we do is directly related to our courses and often more advanced therefore we are not losing as much study time as you’d think,” said Lanoue.
William Long, Senior Engineer and Program Manager, said that the fact the team does not receive funding puts them in a different boat than projects like McMaster Solar Car which gets a portion of student fees each year.
“Only those on campus really know what the Solar Car is and they haven’t competed since 2009. A big problem is that people feel that all this money is going to these student clubs and no one is actually doing anything with it, so we want to show that we’re winning awards and representing the McMaster brand everywhere we go, and we’re doing it in a way where none of it is paid. It’s all extracurricular stuff for our own gratification and education,” said Long.
Long added that the Redsuit songbook debacle forced the team to pull the reigns back on a crowdfunding initiative in order to avoid being swept under the rug with the claims being levied against the group. He went to lengths to stress the different values that the Formula Hybrid team upholds saying that the Redsuits are concerned mainly with outreach, while they are focussed on maintaining a high level of engineering. The crowdfunding campaign is now active and can be reached through indiegogo.com.
Lanoue was quick to chime in on the team’s motives saying, “Nobody’s going to sit down for the amount of time that we do and work on this thing without a passion for it.”
Although a good deal of the team is made up of mechanical and electrical engineers, Long said that they’ve been happy to see more members of other faculties making contributions to the team.
“We have students from Business, Commerce, Health science, multimedia and B-Tech involved. Part of our focus has been to open up the table to everyone across campus because different people have different things they can bring to the table,” he said.
Those students are helping to add another dimension to the team, giving them a competitive edge over others. The multifaceted nature of the competition, which also entails a designing a business case for the car, means that their input is invaluable.
“Where the business students come in handy is in developing that case in which they prove to a group of investors that they would be able to market and sell this car. They’re adept at looking through financials, doing market research, as well as managing the team,” said Lanoue.
Long also said that they are welcome to adding more female members to their ranks in addition to the three already on the team: Megan Wood, Talyssa Ferrer and Basia Kowolaska.
Wood has wanted to work on cars since she took an auto-shop class in high school and said, “I don’t have enough good things to say about the team and everyone on it. Joining it has definitely helped make my first year at Mac a memorable one.”
The team is in the midst of a heavy building stage ahead of the competition, which is set to take place from April 28 to May 1.
The car itself is 1/4 the size of a regular Formula 1 car, but it is nothing to be trifled with. It is slated to tip the scales at approximately 475 pounds when completed. To achieve such a light vehicle, carbon fibre parts are being used to construct the chassis and all aerodynamic devices. It will be able to accelerate from 0 to 100 kilometres an hour in three seconds flat, with its top speed being 150 km/h (it’s limited by their gearing ratio). As its name implies, the car will run on a hybrid power-train with the front wheels each being powered by an in hub 15 KW electric motor and the rear wheels being powered by a 250cc KTM SXF.
As a result of the work they’ve been putting in, the team cleaned up at last year’s competition, winning a total of four awards. Their success hasn’t necessarily made getting monetary sponsorships in Canada any easier, but having the pedigree they’ve acquired has given them more confidence when negotiating with their current sponsors who can see that their investment is being put to good use.
This year, the team has high hopes and regards themselves as major contenders.