What We've Been Up To
Successful Brakes Test
Ahmed, team leader of the Brakes Team locks up all four wheel in a successful brakes test
The fall 2021 semester was about building a strong foundation and gaining momentum on Middlebury Formula Hybrid (MFH) operations. We knew we would need a core of dedicated members for a project of this magnitude to be successful. MFH took part in the student activities fair in the fall, recruiting dozens of excited new members. Initial meetings were well attended, with many showing interest and enthusiasm for a project that was unique among what Middlebury typically offered.
The biggest challenge of the first semester was finding a place to work on the car. In the fall, we were graciously provided a working space in Bihall that suited our needs at the time, but as the scale of our project grew, we realized we would need a more permanent home. In addition to developing a comprehensive project management plan, budgets, and timelines, we began to engage in conversations with administrators about finding a new, permanent home for MFH. One our the strengths in our first semester was our organizational system that facilitated student inclusion. Anyone interested in MFH could quickly be tasked with something to do.
As we moved into the winter, the emerging team wasted no time diving straight into our technical work. Our primary goal was to get the car running by early May for our race. To start, we purchased a chassis and other major components from Dartmouth. The next step was to increase our skillset and budget. Our team organized an online fundraiser, reaching out to alumni, family, and friends. The support was overwhelming and exceeded our expectations, with MFH bringing in nearly $30K in additional fundraising.
We are so grateful to our donors for their generous support which was essential to our progress. To build our technical skills, eight of our team members organized a welding crash-course through the Hannaford Career Center where we learned the basics of welding needed to work on the chassis. With members divided into Combustion, Chassis and Suspension, Drivetrain, Brakes and Tires, Electrical, and Social Media/Outreach teams, by the beginning of J-term we had many projects running concurrently.
J-term Welding Class
The defining moment of our spring semester was the move from Bihall to our new shop location on Franklin Street in late March. We finally had a permanent home! The ability to lay out all of our tools and parts and work on projects that spanned days was crucial to making lasting progress. Having a clearly defined MFH space goes so far in developing MFH as a regular part of the Midd activities scene and giving our operations momentum into the coming year.
With this new space (and the looming deadline of race day), the pace of progress accelerated. Part orders were going out more regularly, and real, material progress towards a running car occurred as whole systems were completed. During this spring push, we achieved milestones such as a rolling chassis, a running combustion engine, a completed drivetrain system, and a fully redesigned low-voltage wiring system. Despite this progress, we still had a lot to do come race week.
Building the Nose Cone
Our experience at the racetrack was one of intense trials and tribulations with the car but also of rapid learning and growth through exposure to other Formula Hybrid teams. Four team members, along with our club advisor Stephen Kelley, hopped into a Penske truck with our car, tools, and supplies. Spirits were high, and we were excited to see the racetrack for the first time.
During race week, teams set up shop in the NASCAR work bays in the infield of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway to put the finishing touches on their cars. Working in shared spaces created opportunities for comradery and collaboration. Our first friends were a team from Wyoming who fed us delicious cheeseburgers on the first night. We learned so much from these other teams simply by talking to them about how they organize their project, what went into their decisions to build their car a certain way, and how to get things done under pressure.
Passing inspection and being allowed to race is quite difficult, and only about ⅓ of teams actually make it. Inspections include mechanical, technical, low-voltage safety, high-voltage safety, tilt-test and brakes test. Passing all of them allows your team to proudly display a clean row of stickers across the top of your car’s dash. Despite our team’s devoted efforts during race week, we failed out during our brakes test, our final sticker needed, when an electrical issue with the low-voltage battery system arose and the inspectors determined they did not have time to reassess us before the race. We believe given a few more hours we could have made it.
Designing and Fabricating the Engine Mount
So what went right, what went wrong, and what’s in store for MFH going forward? The successes of our team this year can be attributed to the dedicated and passionate efforts of a core group that emerged as the year went on. This was a hands-on, learn as you go engineering project, which provided an incredibly refreshing outlet for our curious minds separate from the classroom. One of our members said that he was only considering schools with a Formula Hybrid team and seeing that Midd had a brand new one was an exciting opportunity. At the racetrack, we spoke extensively with Dartmouth and UVM’s teams about how to grow collegiate racing in New England and are planning informal “track days” with them next year to work out kinks in our cars and share ideas. Securing and moving into our new shop is a huge step too, as it gives us a permanent home, adding to the legitimacy of our team.
Overall, we are proud of the achievements from our first year, which included a running combustion engine, a completed drivetrain system, a fully redesigned low-voltage wiring system, and a functioning suspension system. At the race, we passed all safety, mechanical, and low-voltage inspections as well as our fluid spill/suspension tilt-test. We were minutes from seeing real track time in year one, and it was clear that race officials and other advisors were impressed. This year, we hope to continue to build a solid team and establish MFH as a permanent student organization, increasing our technical trainings and driving our car on the racetrack for the first time. We are already meeting these goals through our strong recruitment efforts this fall where being able to display our car has been a major attractor. Additionally, we have a combination of experienced members who are knowledgeable in their areas of the car and enthusiastic new team members. We are excited for everything in store for MFH as we continue to grow as an organization and improve upon our car!