Formula Racing: Built to Last

As many of us know, being in such a large school as UC Davis with such diversity of students and majors means that there are a multitude of clubs available to join. Whether your interests be STEM, literature, the arts, or otherwise, UCD probably offers it. Today I sat down with Colton Miles to speak about the club that he’s currently a part of, Formula Racing. Read below to learn about this amazing club which incorporates a litany of subjects such as design, engineering, and mechanics!

Hey Colton! Thanks for sitting down to talk with me about Formula Racing. Can you tell me a bit about what formula racing is?

Formula Racing is a student-run engineering team that designs and builds a high-performance electric vehicle that is entered in an annual international engineering competition hosted by the Society of Automotive Engineers in Lincoln, Nebraska. The team has a long history of participating in these events, first with internal combustion vehicles and then hybrid vehicles. Our first electric race car was built in the 2013-2014 school year, and was the first U.S. car to pass the electrical tech inspection. It ended up placing third internationally. If you'd like to learn more about our team or the competition in general, take a look at our website.

Very cool! What is your current position on the team and how did you get involved in Formula?

I'm the team manager, so I oversee the team's operations, facilitate collaboration between the various vehicle subsystems, work with the university on the team's behalf, and am involved with the engineering and fabrication of the car. I joined the team my freshman year, and got involved on the logistics and management side since I didn't yet possess the engineering know-how required to do design work and wasn't certified to work in the fabrication lab.

Have you seen any job opportunities for members come into fruition because of their involvement with the team?

Being on a Formula SAE team is a great way to gain hands-on engineering experience (which can be hard to come by at a primarily research institution) and develop critical skills that are valuable in the workforce. As a result, participation on a team like this looks great to potential employers, especially automotive manufacturers. We've had quite a few former members work in the automotive industry at companies like Ford, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz. Ford even sends recruiters to the FSAE competitions and conducts interviews on-site.

Where do you see Formula Racing going in the future and how are you planning on improving the team, if need be? 

This year we have a really strong design based on last year's vehicle with a focus on weight reduction and system optimization. As far as this year's timeline is concerned, we're well ahead of where we've been in previous years, so it looks like we'll have a finished product done with plenty of time to test and fine tune before we head off to competition. For the long term, I think more and more university teams will transition from combustion to electric. It's the way the industry is heading, and, in my opinion, there's a lot of potential for innovation when you're working with an electric powertrain. We have a great team this year, so the biggest improvement I can think of would be to encourage more communications between the various vehicle development teams on campus (there's a team participating in an off-road variant of the SAE competition as well as a team currently developing a solar-powered vehicle).

What are your own future plans at this point, and has Formula influenced that at all?

Ideally I would like to work for a global automaker that's putting a lot of energy into new and emerging technologies, such as Mercedes-Benz or Ford, hopefully as an R&D engineer. It's something I've always wanted to do, but Formula has definitely reaffirmed that and given me a lot of experience that will be valuable in that area.

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