SOUTHFIELD — Solid preparation, good organization and continuous communication were the keys to success for the Lawrence Technological University student team that finished second in the International Formula Hybrid Competition hosted by Dartmouth College and held at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
LTU finished behind Yale University and ahead of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, among others.
“We came prepared, and that was the key. We made sure that we could compete in every event,” said LTU engineering senior Marc Basta, the team’s captain and electrical team lead.
LTU competed in the larger hybrid drive class with a vehicle that could run on gas only, on electricity only, or a combination of the two, with direct drive to the engine.
The LTU students took three months to design the vehicle and another three months to build it. They began test-driving the vehicle almost a full month before the competition.
The Lawrence Tech team passed the brake test on the first try and moved through the vehicle inspection process with few delays.
“The key to the Lawrence Tech team doing so well was for us to build a competitive vehicle that could pass inspections,” said LTU associate professor Robert Fletcher, who has been the faculty advisor for LTU’s Formula Hybrid team since its inception. “The electrical inspection at this competition is very stringent because of the high voltages present. The electrical current discharge possible from the battery system could be lethal if not designed correctly.”
When things did go wrong during the competition, LTU team members quickly came up with solutions because the vehicle was designed with numerous backup systems and redundancies.
“Even if we ran into issues, we came up with solutions quickly by keeping a positive attitude,” Basta said of his teammates.
LTU stayed in contention for first place as the only other team besides Yale to complete the acceleration-electric, acceleration-unrestricted, and autocross competitions.
The main competitive event involving the most points was the 22-kilometer endurance race. LTU finished second in that race, thanks in part to an unusual approach to communication between the driver, vehicle, and the rest of the team.
LTU came to the competition with a telemetry communications system that sent real-time information to both the vehicle dashboard and a laptop computer on engine temperature, battery temperature, remaining battery life, electrical current to the engine, vehicle speed and fault messages.
During the race team members stationed at the top of the speedway stands radioed information to the pit crew, which then held up signs with instructions for the driver as the vehicle went by.
LTU remained in contention with Yale until the final lap and left all the other vehicles far behind.
Basta had participated in the Formula Hybrid two previous years, and one strategy he picked up was to make sure that the team was interpreting the competition rules correctly.
“We consulted the rules committee constantly, asking for clarifications, so there were no surprises on what they would say when we got to the competition,” Basta said. “Other teams found out that their interpretation of the rules was often wrong.”
LTU also finished second in the Ford Efficiency Award competition, behind Yale and ahead of Dartmouth.
The Formula Hybrid International Competition was founded by the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth in 2006. It is endorsed by SAE International and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. Payscale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 7 percent of universities for return on undergraduate tuition investment, and highest in the Detroit metropolitan area. Lawrence Tech is also listed in the top tier of Midwestern universities by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 102-acre campus include over 60 student clubs and organizations and a growing roster of NAIA varsity sports.