Published: May 30, 2006

The University of Colorado at Boulder's Buffalo Racing team finished 20th in a field of 140 entries at the 2006 Formula SAE engineering competition, its best finish in six years of consecutive entries.

The competition, sponsored by Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, was held May 17-20 at the Ford Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich. A team from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, took first place and teams from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Michigan took second and third, respectively.

The Formula SAE competition challenges university students to conceive, design, fabricate and compete with small, formula-style, autocross racing cars.

Students develop their cars throughout the academic year and come together in the spring to compete in eight events, including presentation, engineering design, cost analysis, acceleration, skid-pad, autocross, fuel economy and a 22-kilometer endurance test.

The CU team finished 13th in presentation, the highest ever in that category, and 18th in the endurance test, which only 40 teams were able to finish.

"It's more than a race -- it's about engineering a product," said Lawrence Carlson, CU-Boulder professor of mechanical engineering and faculty adviser to the team since 2000. "To be really competitive, you have to have the lightest, fastest, most powerful car."

Carlson said this year's car, which the team dubbed the "CB6," weighs only 467 pounds and performs like a Porsche 911 Turbo, although it costs only about as much as a Mazda Miata. With a 75-horsepower engine, the CB6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Its top speed is 147 miles per hour.

"One of the things that contributed to our success this year is that we got the car functioning at the end of February, which allowed for testing of the car and training of drivers, which is very important," Carlson said.

Several students took turns at the wheel during the competition's dynamic events. The team included 22 students, half of them earning course credit through the senior design sequence in mechanical engineering. Other team members volunteered their time to the project.

Team sponsors included Shell, Furniture Row Racing, Ford Motor Co., Hamernik & Associates, Colorado WaterJet, PolyDyn, Super-Rupair and the Engineering Excellence Fund, an engineering student organization.

Two members of the CU-Boulder team were hired during the competition for full-time jobs with Ford.

"It's a fantastic experience," Carlson said of being on the SAE race car team. "Students get hands-on experience in everything from computer-aided design to manufacturing to project management and marketing."

Peter Himpsel, a senior from Madison, Wis., who served as co-captain after being involved in the team for four years, said he has spent 50 to 60 hours a week working on the car since last fall.

"It's all encompassing, but you get to see every aspect of engineering that you would ever need to, and in the end you have a race car, which is really cool," he said. "It's pretty much phenomenal driving it."