The Global Formula Racing team at this year's Formula Student  Austria competition, in which their combustion car placed first for the fourth consecutive year. The team's collaboratively developed GFR 2012 design was used to manufacture a combustion car (right) at Oregon State and a fully electric car (left) at the DHBW-R campus in Friedrichshafen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The combustion car competed at Formula SAE Michigan, Formula Student Austria (FSA) and Formula Student Germany (FSG),  and the electric car competed at FSA and FSG-E.

It was dedication and commitment that carried the Global Formula Racing team – an international partnership between Oregon State and Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg-Ravensburg (DHBW-R), Germany, and the first global student collaboration of its kind in the history of both the US-based Formula SAE and EU-based Formula Student programs – to yet another historic winning racing season this summer…and that helped them navigate the inevitable speed bumps and setbacks they encountered along the way.

As always, when the going got tough, the team insisted on going the distance. “When something goes wrong with the car, it’s easy to throw up your hands and give up,” said MIME masters student and GFR Suspension Technical Lead Trevor Takaro, who has been part of the team since his freshman year, “but instead we go back to the shop, stay up all night taking apart the race car, and fix the problem.”

Takaro defending GFR combustion car design at 2012 Formula Student Germany
Takaro discusses GFR combustion car design at the
2012 Formula Student Germany competition.

Their hard work paid off in May when the team won their third consecutive national title in Michigan, a competition that comprises the largest field of 120 teams and is the premier event for the FSAE series in the United States. The GFR has won at Michigan the past three years in a row, a feat that hadn’t previously been accomplished in the 31-year history of the series.

After their record-breaking win in Michigan, the team shipped their OSU-built combustion car to Europe for summer competitions in Austria and Germany – an experience that this year had both its ups and its downs.

“Europe is always a challenge. We have to disassemble the car and the team for shipment to Europe and then reassemble both once we get there,” Takaro said. “We had new drivers this year for the European competitions and a smaller team for Europe because not everyone is able to travel.”

The GFR has won Formula Student Austria every year since the its inception in 2009, and this year was no different. The competition was fiercely close, but the team took their fourth straight victory by winning the final event, after trailing for most of the competition.

“These competitions are all about points. When you’re looking at the individual event rankings you don’t look at how many places you are from first, you look at how many points you are from first,” Takaro explained.

Point losses in individual events do make a difference, though, and in this year's Formula Student Germany competition, the team's combined point deficit due to a variety of technical issues ultimately proved too large for them to recover from.

But while they naturally prefer winning to losing, GFR team members also recognize the value of the latter experiences as learning opportunities.

“If you do everything perfect, you don’t know where to improve,” Takaro said. “There’s a lot of guesswork in the construction of these cars and in trying to figure out the point trade-offs in design. The only way to really know is by conducting extensive testing.”

As Takaro went on to explain, FSAE teams are required to build a new car each year. For the GFR team, innovations on the previous year's model are based on an analysis of what will yield the largest point increase per time investment. For the 2013 GFR season, design changes being considered include larger aerodynamic wings and converting the engine to run on alcohol, which would gain fuel efficiency points for the car.

And while they see no reason not to continue on their winning streak in 2013, the bottom line for most students who participate in GFR is the hands-on engineering and project experience they gain from their involvement in this one-of-a-kind international enterprise. “Being part of the team is a fantastic learning opportunity,” Takaro said. “You have the opportunity to learn about racing engineering in conjunction with your classes, and it really makes things click, you can see the connections.”

Follow the team and check out their photo albums on the GFR Facebook Page.