For the first time in the University of Illinois Formula SAE 40-year history, its team won both of the competitions that comprised the 2022 Formula SAE National Collegiate series—finishing as the national champions with a nearly clean sweep of first-place trophies.
Q&A with second-year CS student and Illini Motorsports team member Labdhi Jain
By Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS
As she prepares to enter her second year as both an Illinois Computer Science student and team member for Illini Motorsports, Labdhi Jain reflects on this past year’s winning team and overall experience:
Can you briefly explain why you chose to study computer science at Illinois?
Studying computer science in college has always been my dream because I wanted to learn how to apply problem-solving skills and creativity into the programs that I write. I chose to study computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because of the amazing resources that Illinois Computer Science provides. Another reason I chose to study here is because I wanted to interact with and learn from the amazing classmates, faculty, and staff at Illinois.
How did you become interested in Illini Motorsports, and what did it mean to you to have such an amazing performance this year, culminating at the 2022 Formula SAE National Collegiate Competition at Michigan International Speedway?
Before coming to college, I was always fascinated by cars, especially race cars. On Quad Day last year, when I heard the engine of Katrina (2021’s car) and heard about the team that basically engineered the car from scratch, I knew I wanted to be a part of Illini Motorsports. Throughout the school year, I had a huge learning curve to get past—since I had close to no experience with hardware engineering. However, all team members, especially the leads were super encouraging; their energy in teaching me about the car kept me coming back to ESPL to learn more. Slowly, I began to understand the content, and started contributing my own efforts to build 2022’s car. When Aditya Mansharamani (Electronics Subsystem Lead and fellow Illinois CS student) offered me the opportunity to go to the FSAE competition in the summer, I was thrilled. I knew it was going to be an amazing experience whether we won any trophies or not. I would be able to see of all the hard work we put into the car pay off as it raced on the tracks at Michigan International Speedway!
What work did your role on the car’s electronics package entail and what did you enjoy about this type of work?
My role on the car included helping manufacture wiring harnesses that connected the electric components of the car, like the ECU, PDM, sensors, etc. I also worked on a Live Telemetry project on the car, which aimed to display live data from the car on a web page while the car was racing. This would help us analyze car data more efficiently, and improve the car based on that data. I loved working on the electronics subsystem because I learned more about electronics (something I have always been fascinated by), and I was able to apply my CS skills in a different engineering field.
At the final event last weekend – the 2022 Formula SAE National Collegiate Competition at Michigan International Speedway – the team dominated the approximately 60 teams from across North America. Their score of 954 points out of 1000 was the second highest score in the history of the Formula SAE competition.
At the first event, held in May, facing competition from 89 other universities, the team, also known as Illini Motorsports, was named the top overall performer, finishing first in the Design and Endurance categories and second in Cost.
The Illinois team designed and built a high-performance race car with an outstanding level of engineering competence. With extremely capable drivers who were well practiced, they were able to handle the pressures of a highly competitive event.
“I have been doing this for many years and I have never before witnessed such an amazing performance. The weather was good and it was great fun to watch!” said MechSE Associate Professor Emeritus Michael Philpott, a faculty advisor for the team.
In addition to first place overall, the Illinois team also boasted:
- 1st in Vehicle Design (a series of grueling assessments and evaluations of each team and their vehicle design decisions by leading industry experts)
- 1st in Acceleration (straight line hard-down 0-60)
- 1st in Endurance (a 22-lap race with one driver change and automatic disqualification on vehicle component failure, loss of fluids, etc.)
- 1st in Autocross (single lap, sharp twists and turns around cones, fastest lap time to win)
- 2nd in Skid Pad (behind Purdue)
Second place overall went to Purdue and third place to the University of Texas at Arlington.
Team leaders and MechSE undergraduates Mike Kowalski and Jaden Thompson credited the team’s success to their proactive work well in advance of any testing stages and competitions. Philpott agreed.
“Overall, the team managed the project incredibly well, finishing the build stage earlier than ever before, and giving themselves two to three months of rigorous testing and development before the first competition. This is how you do it!!”
Team captain for the upcoming 2022-23 year Blaine Hesler spoke directly to the assistance provided by Philpott as well as MechSE’s Bruce Flachsbart, Director of the Engineering Student Project Lab, and Mark Pinson in the MechSE Machine Shop, along with many others.
“Thank you for the support in making this competition a possibility for the team. Over the past 41 years, Formula SAE has been a life-changing experience for thousands of students at Illinois. I cannot express how much of a role university support plays in providing the tools to the excellent student-engineers that comprise this team. It is thanks to university support that we can continue to represent the University of Illinois in a manner befitting of our reputation as a top engineering school,” Hesler said.
Read the original story from Mechanical Science & Engineering.