A pit stop in Illini Motorsport’s garage


Jacob Slabosz

Vedant Thakar, sophomore in Engineering, machines a bracket for the corner assembly – which connects the suspension to the wheels – of this year’s car. Illini Motorsports primarily works out of the Engineering Student Project Laboratory, located near the Loomis Laboratory of Physics.

By Azucena Gama, Staff Writer

Every year, Illini Motorsports designs and builds a racecar to compete in Formula Society of Automotive Engineers, or Formula SAE, competitions. The team took home first place in the nation at last year’s competition, and it is seeking a repeat this year.

Hundreds of colleges from all over the world participate in Formula SAE. Participants create their own formula-style cars to compete in a variety of challenges throughout the event. The formula style the competition follows incorporates open-wheeled, single-seater vehicles. The competition takes place at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

This year, the competition begins right after the Spring 2023 Illinois Commencement.

Last summer, Illini Motorsports got first place overall, as well as first place in the endurance and design competitions and second place in terms of cost.

“We took on several pretty unique technical challenges this year, like a fully decoupled suspension, brand new frame design and all the integration that goes with that new suspension points,” said Blaine Hesler, senior in Engineering and team captain.

Throughout the Formula SAE competition, points are distributed across the many events held over several days. Teams get points for presentation, cost reporting, design, fuel efficiency and endurance.

This year, the team is aiming to defend its title with a new vehicle. The team began working on a new car almost immediately after last year’s competition.

“At that point, we took about two weeks to kind of decide the direction of the vehicle and what we wanted to do,” Hesler said.

Jacobo D’Amato, freshman in Engineering, applies wax to the mold that will be used to create the carbon fiber front wing. By waxing the mold, the surface is evened out, ensuring the final product will be smooth. (Jacob Slabosz)

Illini Motorsports members are enjoying their hard-earned success, but it took a while for their hard work to pay off. Since being founded in 1979, Illini Motorsports saw an uptick in performance after reorganizing and revamping its approach.

“We stopped repeating the same mistakes every year,” Hesler said.

The University is now ranked third on the Formula Student World Ranking List. Their ranking is based on the points gained in every event the school has participated in, as well as the team’s competitiveness.

“It’s definitely a sacrifice,” said Sarah Landriau, senior in Engineering and drivetrain lead. “There are certain levels to being on the team, especially for leadership. You pass the 50/50 split between school and formula.”

On top of school work, members of the team can spend more than 40 hours a week in the shop. Kevin Xue, sophomore in Engineering and chassis lead, said teammates collaborate to help lighten the heavy load split between classes and motorsports.

“Some weeks are worse, some weeks are better,” Xue said. “Most of us are taking similar classes, (so) we help each other out with homework.”

A large portion of their time is devoted to making sure their cars uphold all SAE standards. These rules are strict and are connected to the point system. Some examples of these standards include certain parts of the car being prohibited from exceeding a certain height or width, being restricted from using more than the specified amount of voltage and keeping the car below a certain noise level.

Around this time of year, the team is in the process of finishing up designing and assembling and starting to test everything. Members work around the clock to get it done.

Sarah Landriau, senior in Engineering, shows differential carriers that were machined by the Illini Motorsports team. (Jacob Slabosz)

“The first time I’d ever designed a part, machined it myself and assembled it on the car, I got a call at three in the morning over spring break that they were going to test my part,” Landriau said. “So, I got out of bed and showed up to the parking lot in my pajamas to watch my part get tested. It passed.”

A team can be disqualified if it violates any of the SAE rules.

“(Competition) is a full week of pain and fixing the car,” Xue said. “Judges walking over and asking you questions is super stressful.”

Hesler said everything the team does must be tracked.

“One of our greatest skills is organization and knowledge transfer,” Hesler said. “We have a Wikipedia of every single car we built, we have documentation on the design decisions that were made and the nitty gritty of everything along with manufacturing processes and timelines.”

Formula SAE can get expensive as well, which is why cost reporting is a part of the judging process. Budgeting, production methods and product efficiency are all under this category.

Illini Motorsports is sponsored by several companies to offset these costs. Some of their partners include companies like Siemens, 3M, Bosch, Ford and PTC.

In addition to corporate support, Illini Motorsports is supported by the University’s Mechanical Science & Engineering Department. The team also works out of the Engineering Student Project Laboratory. Within the space, they have equipment, storage and meeting areas.

“We have a couple of companies that have worked with us for 10 years at this point,” Landriau said. “A big advantage for them is the engineers — they get access to come to the shop and recruit right from our team.”

The SAE experience has helped pave the way for what members want to do professionally.

“There’s a lot of people on the team that choose to go down the motorsports path,” Hesler said. “We have alumni who work at NASCAR, IndyCar and Ford.”


[email protected]