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Fast Track

Students design fuel efficient race cars for Thayer School competition

Founded and run by Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, the second annual Formula Hybrid International Competition took place May 5 through 7 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. Sixteen teams participated in the competition that features high-performance hybrid race cars built by teams of undergraduate and graduate engineering students. As Vox went to press, Dartmouth had won the hybrid acceleration, electric-only acceleration, and marketing events, with the competition still underway. Final results are available at Formula Hybrid.

Hybrid car
Dartmouth students designed, built, and competed this hybrid race car. (Photo by Doug Fraser)

Thayer School modeled the event after the Formula SAE® competition, in which teams of students conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars. Dartmouth students have competed in that event for more than 10 years. The main difference in the Formula Hybrid competition is that teams must consider fuel efficiency in the design and construction of their car.

“In the Formula SAE® competition students can use as much gas as they want,” explains Doug Fraser, research engineer and director of the Formula Hybrid project. “In the Formula Hybrid competition, if there is gas left over at the end of the competition then they’ve wasted it. Ideally, they want to run out of gas right at the finish line.”

Like Formula SAE®, students must also consider the design, acceleration, handling, and endurance of their vehicle, and abide by competition rules that include many design specifications.

“The rules are always a work-in-progress,” says Fraser, “because students keep asking new and different questions that lead to new rules, and eventually to new technology.”

In addition to the engineering component, collaboration is essential within and among the teams.

“It’s amazing,” says Wynne Washburn, the project’s deputy director, “in the garages you can hear the teams communicating among themselves—Yale asking Embry Riddle questions, Dartmouth asking Illinois questions. The students are really open to sharing technology, and that’s what makes it better.

“One of the biggest excitements of the program is bringing together electrical and mechanical engineers. It’s great to see two groups of people who study fundamentally different fields work together towards a common goal. The cross-disciplinary learning is invaluable.”

The purpose of the event goes beyond winning competitions. “We encourage teams to go further and really push the envelope of hybrid car technology,” says Fraser.

“The Dartmouth car is amazing to watch,” says John Collier, Thayer School’s Myron Tribus Professor of Engineering Innovation and the hybrid team adviser. “The acceleration is incredible, and it’s quiet!”

“Last year was the very first year of the competition,” adds Charlie Sullivan, associate professor of engineering and another faculty advisor to the Dartmouth team. “Everybody was just starting to get things to work.This year we’re seeing a lot more sophisticated design and creativity.”

The competition also offered an educational program to inspire interest in middle and high school students in hybrid and other alternative technologies. Sponsors included the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Plug In America, Toyota, General Motors, and Chrysler.

By CATHARINE LAMM AND MARLEY MCMILLAN ´09

Learn More

Visit the Dartmouth Formula Racing - Hybrid Team website.

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08