Getting to test drive these Formula SAE race cars, designed and built by engineering students, is a privilege we enjoy each year as a sponsor of the University of Alabama’s Crimson Racing Team. On October 28th we had a chance to get behind the wheel of the 2017 car.
Crimson Racing is a student design team within the University of Alabama’s Mechanical Engineering Department. The team works to design, build, and manufacture a formula style race car that competes annually in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Formula racing competitions. The program focuses on exposing students to a businesslike environment in the design and manufacturing of a production vehicle.
A long time sponsor of Crimson Racing, Fitz-Thors traces its own origins back to the program. Company founders Matt Fitzgerald and Arnar Thors were first acquainted when they signed up to join the team as engineering students. “This is a program that provides real-world experience like no other. Having gone through it ourselves, we know that anyone who comes through this program will possesss invaluable, real-world, professional engineering skills like managing time, money, people while also making a great product. We like to recruit from this program, because we know people on this team can balance their engineering skillsets with project management just like we do everyday at our company,” Fitzgerald said.
The students learn how to interact in a company atmosphere in order to meet deadlines while collaborating with other students. The competition requires the students to not only design and build a car, but also try to sell the car as if it were a real production vehicle. Zach Froehlich is a Crimson Racing team member who also works at Fitz-Thors as part of university’s co-op program. The program allows students like Zach to maintain full-time student status while gaining work experience pertinent to their field of study. When not focused on his general coursework or his brake designer duties with the FSAE team, Zach is doing real engineering work at Fitz-Thors contributing to customer projects. This involves problem-solving, and designing parts in CAD, operating machinery and assisting with builds and installations.
Long time Fitz-Thors employee and Crimson Racing alum, Matt Moody, was on hand for the Sponsor Drive Day on October 28th. Matt got behind the wheel of the Crimson Racing 2017 (CR17) car that competed in the May race in Michigan. Winners are not crowned simply based on which car gets the checkered flag. Rather, an 1000 point cumulative score is maintained during the year that is based on both static and dynamic aspects of the build project. Static aspects include engineering, cost analysis, and business presentation. Dynamic aspects include acceleration and fuel economy.
Fitz-Thors, a Crimson Racing sponsor for over ten years, also sponsors the FSAE team in Auburn. There is competition between the two schools as you’d expect, but also an open dialogue and healthy collaboration between them.
With heavy prevalence in Alabama, the automotive industry is at the root of many of Fitz-Thors' clients and projects. The company designs and installs a lot of the production line equipment that goes into assembling of the vehicles we all drive. The founders and many employees are self-professed “car guys,” and the company also sponsors other collegiate design racing teams. In addition to the two FSAE programs, Fitz-Thors is a sponsor of the Baja SAE and EcoCAR 3 programs at Alabama.
The Crimson Racing team competes annually at Michigan International Speedway in the Formula SAE competition. Held May 10-13 the event hosted 120 teams from around the world. In the past four years, Crimson Racing has improved from 98th place to 17th place in the rankings. Stronger than ever in the history of the program, the team also aims to compete in the Formula SAE Lincoln competition for the first time in nearly a decade.
This year Crimson Racing was one of 10 team selected from around the country to be awarded a Bosch Sponsorship based on the past progress of the team’s powertrain and their projected plans for improvement this year. As a reward, the team will receive Bosch sensors and electronics to use in their 2018 car. Bosch is a multi-national engineering company that is the world's largest producer of automotive parts. FSAE considers this a huge win for their program and a great testament to their powertrain team’s passion for research and growth.
“The FSAE program brought to life many of the engineering concepts from the classroom and helped build a background of hands-on skills like machining and welding. Having the ability to manufacture your idea for a solution really empowers you as an engineer and creator. It also totally changes your approach as an engineer when you learn the many lessons from building your own designs. Looking great on paper doesn’t directly translate to a great functional design,” says Fitzgerald who largely credits his experience in the program to the success of his company today. “Whether it’s race cars or robots, at the end of the day we are about designing and building something new and innovative. Always learning and taking on new challenges – that’s what drives us and our team."
All photo credits: Zach Froehlich