Purdue Formula finishes top 10 in a crazy year

More success for Purdue's student auto racing teams! Purdue Formula SAE scored a 6th place finish at the most recent in-person race event at Michigan International Speedway. Combined with their previous 2nd place in the Design presentation, the team finished a combined 3rd overall – the best result in their 29-year history!


Purdue Formula SAE is a student design team that designs and builds an internal combustion race car every year. Organized by SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers), the competition attracts hundreds of university teams from around the world. In a typical year, teams would spend the school year designing and building a single-seat Formula-style race car, and then bring the car to a racetrack for week-long competition. They would first be judged on “static events,” where students would present information about their car to industry experts; “dynamic events” would follow, where students physically race the car in a series of events on the track.

Of course, 2020 was not a typical year.

“Last March, the team had completed building their car, and were testing it to get ready for the competition scheduled in May, when COVID hit,” said Todd Nelson, the team’s faculty advisor. “Unfortunately, like most things in 2020, the in-person competition was cancelled, and the team was not able to compete with the vehicle.  From the beginning, the students took the adversity head on and were determined to turn it into a competitive advantage.”

For the 2021 competition, SAE decided to change to a hybrid format, dividing the competition into the “Knowledge Events,” consisting of virtual presentations in Design, Business, and Cost; and “Validation Events,” with the vehicles competing on the track in Acceleration, Skid Pad, Autocross, and Endurance. At the Knowledge Events, which were held virtually in the spring of 2021, Purdue finished 2nd place among all 132 university teams from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and Asia – Purdue’s best finish ever.

But they weren’t done. They decided to take their car to two Validation Events, where the car would be physically put through its paces, including a grueling 22-lap Endurance race. First up, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in June. Purdue’s car was on track for a top 5 finish in the Endurance race, but their gearbox failed with just 1.5 laps to go. They ended up finishing 9th overall.

“We’d come too far to just end it at that,” said Ben Reynolds, the team’s chief engineer. “We decided to do a complete teardown and engine swap. We only had 11 days to do it!”

After a few shakedown laps at Purdue’s Grand Prix track, the team set off for the next Validation event, at Michigan International Speedway in July. This time they finished strong, with a 4th place finish in the Endurance race, and a 6th place finish overall. Combined with their previous 2nd place finish in the Knowledge events, Purdue Formula finished a combined 3rd place in the entire competition. It's the best result in the team's 29-year history.

“I’m so proud of these students,” said Nelson. “The SAE student organizations and SAE competitions provide an incredible experience for the students to develop their professional skills. They are, in effect, running a small engineering firm which requires them to apply everything they learn in the classroom to the very challenging and complex problem of designing and building a winning racecar every year.  None of this could have been possible this past year without the entire Purdue community working so hard to live out Protect Purdue.  On behalf of the SAE students, I want to thank everyone that helped make the 2020-21 school year and amazing student experiences like Formula SAE possible.”

Writer: Jared Pike, jaredpike@purdue.edu, 765-496-0374

Source: Todd Nelson, tnelson1@purdue.edu