MIT Motorsports team feeds the need for speed

MechE students pursue fuel economy and racing glory

MIT racecar MIT racecar being tested MIT Racecar

MechE undergrads who enjoy fabrication in 2.007 get the chance to enhance their skills by designing precision parts for the MIT Motorsports racecar.

Accelerating from zero to 60 mph in a head-turning 3.4 seconds, MIT Motorsports’ latest racecar generates 1.5 horizontal g-force as it exits the starting gate. The team behind this feat of engineering is a group of MechE students dedicated to design, fabrication, and—most definitely—speed. Team members are recruited from core MechE courses like 2.670 and 2.007.

The Motorsports team, under the leadership of Professor Dan Frey, has just begun construction on the 8th generation MIT racecar for completion in summer 2011, when the students will compete against 80 colleges in a three-day event hosted by SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers). Teams are evaluated in multiple categories, including design, cost, fuel economy, reliability, and racing. At the 2010 finals in Fontana, CA, the highly competitive MIT team placed 8th overall.

MIT racecar
Competition rules don’t allow for a team’s vehicle to be recycled from year to year, so the vehicle’s core component, the frame, must be built from scratch for every competition. In fact, during the 18-month build process, the Motorsports team constructs every aspect of the vehicle except the engine itself. Specialists focus on subsystems including dynamics, fluids, thermodynamics, microelectronics, power electronics, ergonomics, and controls.

Two older Motorsports vehicles, vestiges from past competitions, are parked in the lab as reminders of how far the shop’s research has evolved. “We are continually refining the parts of the vehicle to reduce mass and increase efficiency,” says MechE student Erich Brandeau. “Last summer, each member created a design for the wheel hubs. Then we ran simulations to find out which design would perform the best before we selected the winner.”

Adhering to the design constraints is a perpetual challenge and interpretation of the rules a constant topic of discussion. Students conduct a rigorous inspection to ensure safety and to confirm that each parameter and guideline has been incorporated. They work with software tools like Solid Works to conduct simulations before the first weld is ever tacked.meche logo

Watch video of actual test runs at

MIT FSAE corporate sponsors include Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Schlumberger.