Formula SAE is a student design competition organized by SAE International (previously known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE). The competition was started in 1980 by the SAE student branch at the University of Texas at Austin after a prior asphalt racing competition proved to be unsustainable.

The concept behind Formula SAE is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a student design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. The prototype race car is to be evaluated for its potential as a production item. The target marketing group for the race car is the non-professional weekend autocross racer. Each student team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules, whose purpose is both ensuring on-track safety (the cars are driven by the students themselves) and promoting clever problem solving.

The prototype race car is judged in a number of different events. The points schedule for most Formula SAE events is:

Static Events
Design Event 150
Cost & Manufacturing Analysis Event 100
Presentation Event 75
Dynamic Events
Acceleration Event 100
Skidpad Event 75
Autocross Event 125
Fuel Economy Event 100
Endurance Event 275
Total Points Possible 1,000

In addition to these events, various sponsors of the competition provide awards for superior design accomplishments. For example, the best use of E-85 ethanol fuel, innovative use of electronics, recyclability, crash worthiness, analytical approach to design, and overall dynamic performance are some of the awards available. At the beginning of the competition, the vehicle is checked for rule compliance during the Technical Inspection. Its braking ability, rollover stability and noise levels are checked before the vehicle is allowed to compete in the dynamic events (Skidpad, Autocross, Acceleration, and Endurance).

Formula SAE encompasses all aspects of a business including research, design, manufacturing, testing, developing, marketing, management, and fund raising.

Big companies, such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, can have staff interact with more than 1000 student engineers. Working in teams of anywhere between two and 30, these students have proven themselves to be capable of producing a functioning prototype vehicle.

The volunteers for the design judging include some of the racing industry’s most prominent engineers and consultants including the late Carroll Smith, Bill Mitchell, Doug Milliken, Cloud Rouelle, Jack Auld, John LePlante, Ron Tauranac, and Bryan Kubala.

Today, the competition has expanded and includes a number of spinoff events. Formula Student is a similar SAE-sanctioned event in the UK, as well as Formula SAE Australasia (Formula SAE-A) taking place in Australia. A Formula SAE West event takes place in California but will be replaced by SAE Lincoln in Nebraska for 2012. The Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI) holds the Formula Student Germany competition at Hockenheimring.

In 2007, an offshoot called Formula Hybrid was inaugurated. It is similar to Formula SAE, except all cars must have gasoline-electric hybrid power plants. The competition takes place at the New Hampshire International Speedway.

Summary of rules

Student competition

Formula SAE has relatively few performance restrictions. The team must be made up entirely of active college students (including drivers) which places obvious restrictions on available work hours, skill sets, experience, and presents unique challenges that professional race teams do not face with a paid, skilled staff. This restriction means that the rest of the regulations can be much less restrictive than most professional series.

Students are allowed to receive advice and criticism from professional engineers or faculty, but all of the car design must be done by the students themselves. Students are also solely responsible for fundraising, though most successful teams are based on curricular programs and have university-sponsored budgets. Additionally, the points system is organized so that multiple strategies can lead to success. This leads to a great variety among cars, which is a rarity in the world of motorsports.


The engine must be a four-stroke, Otto-cycle piston engine with a displacement no greater than 710cc. An air restrictor of circular cross-section must be fitted downstream of the throttle and upstream of any compressor, with a diameter no greater than 20mm for gasoline engines, forced induction or naturally aspirated, or 19mm for ethanol-fueled engines. The restrictor keeps power levels below 100 hp in the vast majority of FSAE cars. Most commonly, production four-cylinder 600cc sport bike engines are used due to their availability and displacement. However there are many teams that use smaller V-twin and single-cylinder engines, mainly due to their weight-saving and packaging benefits. Though it is permitted, very rarely do teams build an engine from scratch, such as Western Washington University’s 554cc V8 entry in 2001, University of Melbourne’s “WATTARD” engine in 2003-2004 and University of Auckland’s V twin.


The suspension is unrestricted save for safety regulations. Most teams opt for four-wheel independent suspension, almost universally double-wishbone. Active suspension is legal.


There are few regulations or requirements on aerodynamics. Most teams do not build aerodynamic packages as the speeds involved in FSAE competition rarely exceed 60 mph (97 km/h), and design judging tends to frown upon aerodynamic parts that do not have definite test data, usually in the form of wind tunnel testing or at least computational fluid dynamics analysis. Therefore, most cars that do utilize aerodynamic downforce tend to develop their entire car around the aerodynamic package, including massive wings and undertray.


There is no weight restriction. The weight of the average competitive Formula SAE car is usually less than 440 lb (200 kg) in race trim. However, the lack of weight regulation combined with the somewhat fixed power ceiling encourages teams to adopt innovative weight-saving strategies, such as the use of composite materials, elaborate and expensive machining projects, and rapid prototyping. In 2009 the fuel economy portion of the endurance event was assigned 100 of the 400 endurance points, up from 50. This rules change has marked a trend in engine downsizing in an attempt to save weight and increase fuel economy. Several top-running teams have switched from high-powered four-cylinder cars to smaller, one- or two-cylinder engines which, though they usually make much less power, allow weight savings of 75 lb (34 kg) or more, and also provide much better fuel economy. If a lightweight single-cylinder car can keep a reasonable pace in the endurance race, it can often make up the points lost in overall time to the heavier, high-powered cars by an exceptional fuel economy score.

Example: At the 2009 Formula SAE West endurance event, third-place finishers Rochester Institute of Technology completed the endurance course in 22 minutes, 45 seconds with their four-cylinder car, while fourth-place finishers Oregon State University finished in 22 minutes, 47 seconds with their single-cylinder car; this gave RIT 290.6 of 300 points for the race portion of the event and OSU 289.2 points. However, OSU used the least fuel of any car (.671 US gal (2.54 l), or 20.3 mpg‑US (0.116 l/km) over the entire endurance race) and received the full 100 points for fuel economy, while RIT used 1.163 US gal (4.40 l) (11.75 mpg‑US (0.2002 l/km)) and was thus only awarded 23.9 of the available points. RIT went on to win the overall competition by only 8.9 points over OSU, having scored slightly better in all of the other dynamic events.


The majority of the regulations pertain to safety. Cars must have two steel roll hoops of designated thickness and alloy, regardless of the composition of the rest of the chassis. There must be an impact attenuator in the nose, and impact testing data on this attenuator must be submitted prior to competing. Cars must also have two hydraulic brake circuits, full five-point racing harnesses, and must meet geometric templates for driver location in the cockpit for all drivers competing. Tilt-tests ensure that no fluids will spill from the car under heavy cornering, and there must be no line-of-sight between the driver and fuel, coolant, or oil lines.

Level 1
This comprises the design and manufacture of the individual vehicle components, and this is the level we are probably most comfortable with after our university training. This is the level where we are designing parts, calculating loads, masses, stresses, stiffnesses, heat transfer rates, etc. We are using typical engineering design and analysis tools such as CAD, FEA & CFD software, maybe engineering formulae, (stresses in shafts, bearing loads), etc. It is probably the area where we can best get advice from our academics, given this level requires expertise in specific areas, and generally academics tend to be people with deep expertise in a particular field.
Types of questions asked at this level: How do I make this part lighter? How do I make this stiffer? What material will we use? How do we manufacture this component? What physical tests do we need to perform on these components? Do we want a magnetic or Hall effect sensor for our crank angle sensor? What spring stiffnesses do we need?

Level 2
This is where we are joining all the components together into a complete functioning vehicle. It is also the level where we identify conflicting goals that may arise between different components and sub-systems.
Types of questions asked at this level: What are our performance trade-offs at a whole vehicle level? How does our suspension geometry match up with our differential choice? How does our engine packaging tie in with our need for easy access and servicing? How do we address tradeoffs between engine mass and output torque/power? How do we address the conflicting demands of cockpit packaging and front suspension geometry?

Level 3
Given the whole vehicle at level 2, how does this design tie in with our overall competitive strategy.
Types of questions asked at this level: How do we score the greatest number of points at the competition? What are the inherent trade-offs in our own design at the event level? For example, how does our vehicle speed strategy tie in with fuel economy? Are there conflicts between our dynamic event performance and our static event performance? What are the risk factors that could possibly jeopardize our competition performance?

Level 4
This is the over-arching management of the whole project – how the competition performance ties in with other managerial level stuff like time and budget management, usage of human resources, etc. Functions performed at this level: Holding the whole project together so that you deliver this year, keep everyone reasonably happy, and hand over a healthy project to future teams
Types of questions asked at this level: What are our goals for this project? Are they feasible given our resources? How are we going for budget, time, material resources, etc? Are our key stakeholders (e.g university, tech workshop staff, sponsors, supporters, team members etc) happy with our project? How will our project affect future teams? Are our team members working in harmony? Are we leaving this team in a better state than we found it?


Course Curriculum

Rulebook Knowledge
Design Thinking
Team Formation
Funding Opportunities

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