FSAE stands for Formula Society of Automotive Engineers, which is a class of formula car governed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The cars are open-wheeled, with a maximum engine displacement of 610 cc, a minimum wheelbase of 60 in, and a mandatory 20-mm intake restriction. Vehicle weights range from under 350 lb to over 600 lb; the most common weight are between 450-500 lb. Cars have steel tube space frames or carbon fiber monocoques with independent suspension. Average speeds in the main driving events are between 30 and 50 MPH.
The first Formula SAE competition took place in 1981 with just 6 teams. Since then, the competition has expanded to include slots for 120 teams and a substantial set of rules or formula to keep the cars safe and on a level playing field. Teams are awarded points based on their car's design and cost, a business presentation, and five dynamic events: acceleration, skidpad, autocross, fuel, and 22-km endurance race. All drivers and team members must be university students, and all racing is done against the clock.
The original FSAE competition had humble beginnings with few teams, staff, and a parking lot racing surface. Today, FSAE Michigan is the largest of the FSAE events with dynamic portions taking place on track at the Michigan International Speedway.
As FSAE Michigan increased in size, the idea of the competition expanded across the world. Today FSAE style competitions are held in Brasil, Italy, Austria, Germany, Japan, Britain, and Australia. New powertrain formats have also been introduced, including Formula Hybrid in New Hampshire and Formula Electric in Nebraska.
Five events, acceleration, skidpad, autocross, endurance and fuel economy, make up the dynamic portion of the competition. Each event is designed to test a particular aspect of a team’s vehicle, from its straight line and horizontal acceleration to its build quality and overall drivability in a 22 km endurance race. Points are awarded based on time to complete each event, testing both the speed and agility of the cars as well as the prowess of their drivers. All drivers must be team members; however, experienced drivers can make all the difference in the narrow time margins.
There are three static events: design, business, and cost. The design event gives participants a chance to showcase their work and receive feedback from industry professionals. Judges are leaders in the automotive and aerospace industries with GM, Chrysler, and Ford representing heavily. The business and cost events challenge competitors to model their team as a small business, pitching their business plans and outlining production costs.