Penn Students Best Among U.S. Schools at Electric Racing Competition
by Patrick Ammerman
The University of Pennsylvania’s Electric Racing team has placed first among schools in the United States and second overall in this year’s Formula SAE Electric Vehicle competition, an electric car competition that spans design, construction and performance in a race.
Student run and organized, the Penn Electric Racing team is based in the mechanical engineering and applied mechanics department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and is advised by Andrew Jackson, a professor of practice in the department.
The group, formerly known as Solar Racing, came into existence in the late 80s for the purpose of student-run design, building and racing of solar-powered vehicles. For the last three years, the team has focused on building electric racecars that use cutting-edge technology and design to maximize performance, developing insights that could inform the next generation of consumer electric vehicles.
The Penn Electric Racing team returned from the annual competition held June 15-18 in Lincoln, Neb. In this year’s competition, 29 teams from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan and the Czech Republic participated in the electric division, along with 80 cars powered by internal combustion engines.
Each team entered a car they had built from scratch. For the electric division, the competition encourages engineering students to address some of the same challenges faced by the electric car industry, including making cars that are energy efficient and delivering a business pitch of their design to a panel of judges.
The Penn team’s car, REV2, finished first in four of the eight events of the competition. Notably, their car scored highest in acceleration time.
“We hit seventy-five meters in 3.807 seconds, which set a Formula SAE record for the fastest acceleration time in the U.S., making REV2 the fastest student-built racecar in the country,” said Sina Golkari, of Swampscott, Mass., team manager of Penn Electric Racing and a rising sophomore in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology.
Penn also scored best in three other categories. In the design category, the team participated in two rounds of question and answer with a panel of judges, and won first place in a competitive field. In the two business events, team members from The Wharton School helped the team capture first place.
“Penn Electric Racing is one of few electric FSAE teams with a dedicated management team run by business students,” Golkari said, “and that really showed when we won both the cost report and the business presentation.”
During the race portion of the competition, however, a mechanical problem hurt their overall score.
All cars competed in a 22 kilometer race divided into fifteen laps, including a mandatory driver change after the seventh lap. Teams were given an endurance score based on the number of laps completed and the fastest completion time, and an efficiency score based on how much energy was consumed from the car’s battery over the course of the race.
The endurance and efficiency categories were weighted most heavily in the competition because they are directly related to one of the biggest challenges in designing electric cars: increasing the distance they can travel before needing to recharge. The top score in design, for instance, earned 150 points, while first place endurance was worth 300 points. Most of the points in the endurance and efficiency categories were given upon completing the fifteen-lap race.
While the Penn car initially performed well during endurance, they ran into a problem after switching drivers on their seventh lap. The Penn Electric Racing car did not finish the endurance run. Only the winning team, Czech Technical University of Prague, completed all fifteen laps.
Despite the mechanical problem during the race, the team found a lot to take away from in the competition.
“We learned a lot from participating and from observing other teams, and we’ve already started the brainstorming process for next year’s car, which certainly has a lot to live up to,” Golkari said.