UNM LOBOMotorSports finished in 12th place overall out of 80 international entries at the Formula SAE competition in Lincoln, Neb., recently. The team also broke its own records, with the highest point total ever and the highest design place, tied for seventh. The team also earned a very respectable ninth place for presentation.

The 2013 LOBOMotorSports formula-style racecar features a snowmobile engine, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that requires no shifting by the driver, and aerodynamics designed and manufactured by students.

When the race announcer saw the striking shiny bright red car with Lobo insignia, he commented, “Here comes the University of New Mexico - that car is beautiful!”

Putting it all together
LOBOMotorSports is a three-semester program starts with the basics of learning how automobiles work and moves on to designing and building each system of a car, then putting all the systems together on time and on budget. It culminates in the opportunity to test the car against other teams.

Professor John Russell, the program’s director, sees it as a unique opportunity to teach systems engineering, or “putting it all together” — skills that are useful for engineers in every industry. To Russell, the value of the Formula SAE competition is in what it teaches students about engineering project management.

“We run the program as if we were in industry,” he said. “These students could work for any industry in town and they’ll approach any project the same way they learn to do it here.”

Leading with vision, making decisions
Students choose the program manager, who coordinates organization and productivity across the program. “It’s tough for a student to be in charge of their team,” says Russell. “The project manager must be a leader with vision who gets team input, then makes decisions and leads the way.”

The 2013 team's program manager was Kirby Ann Witte. “Kirby is a fantastic team leader,” says Russell. “She’s always thinking ahead and she gets things done. She saves time by seeking out opportunities. She takes initiative and is professional.” After graduating from UNM in the spring, Witte headed for a graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Russell praised the efforts of the entire team, especially Mike Carillo, systems engineer; Nick Warin, engine lead; and Danielle Cotugno, presentation.

The team faced an unexpected obstacle when two uprights, knuckle attachments to the wheel, broke three hours before the endurance race.

The team got to work immediately; they borrowed a welder, dissembled the vehicle, and fixed the uprights in about an hour and a half. Zach Westhoff, part of the chassis team, welded the uprights. “I just did my part to help,” says Zach. “The greatest experience is when the team as a whole unites to do great things.” Russell agrees. “It was unbelievable teamwork,” he comments. “It was also an example of what the program teaches: systems engineering, problem-solving, overcoming adversity, leadership, and teamwork.”

Story by Tamara Williams