Purdue Formula SAE scores 2nd place; best design score in their history

Purdue Formula SAE is a student design team that designs and builds a race car every year, competing against hundreds of other universities from around the world. Purdue has placed 2nd place in the Knowledge Events portion of the competition, where the team presents information about the car's design, business plan, and cost.


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 future years.” 

The first challenge was to recruit new students to join the team during Fall 2020 with full COVID restrictions in place – a tough sell, when they likely wouldn’t be able to even get their hands on the car. “We had lots of new members, many of them working completely virtually,” said Ben Reynolds, the team’s chief engineer. “It’s pretty incredible to see our new team members, some of whom have never met in person, all collaborating on this design. That gives us a lot of confidence for the future of the team.”

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. “We saw this new format as an opportunity,” said Reynolds. “We created a presentation that can serve as longterm documentation for the team, where the team could look back in 5 years and see exactly how we were analyzing these different aspects of the car.”

After SAE judges reviewed presentations from 132 university teams spanning the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and Asia, they announced the results via a live YouTube stream. Purdue finished with several bests in the team’s 29 years competing; they placed 2nd in both the coveted Design event and the Business presentation, and were 2nd place overall among all Knowledge Events.

“For the team to have their best finish ever in the Knowledge Events, against the most schools ever competing, in such a challenging year... it's a testament to the character, leadership, and engineering skills that these students have," said Nelson. "What they have accomplished is truly remarkable!”

“I’d just like to thank Purdue and our sponsors for sticking with us through this difficult year,” said Adam Dewey, president of the Purdue Formula SAE team. “We’re very honored to be given this award. We’ll be taking all the judges’ feedback to heart, and always working to improve the team.”

Next up for the team: actually racing the car! SAE’s Validation Events will take place in June at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and July at Michigan International Speedway. The car they built in 2020 – and feared would never see a race track – will now put the rubber to the road. “I’m so proud of the hard work of all the students,” said Nelson, “and I can’t wait to see what they do on the track!”

Purdue Formula SAE 2019

Purdue Formula SAE 2017