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Formula SAE: A Path to a Career in Motorsports You Probably Didn’t Know About

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Formula SAE: A Path to a Career in Motorsports You Probably Didn’t Know About

When it comes to the sport of karting, or motorsports in general, many drivers are interested in how to become the next Sebastian Vettel. The 4-time Formula 1 World Champion is arguably one of the greatest drivers in recent history and his skill and ability fascinates many individuals in the sport. However, there are some who become fascinated not on the driver, but rather the race car underneath them and the simple question of; How does that work?

This was the case for 23 year old Michael Hogg, a former Canadian and US National champion kart racer from Vancouver, BC. After spending nine years in karting, travelling across North America and to select events in Europe, Michael tried his hand in the world of cars for a few years. After an incredible experience, filled with highs and lows it was time to make a decision regarding the next step. This fascination with the behind the scenes of motorsports, and having been exposed to professional race engineers at some of the top levels, Michael decided to press pause on racing and go to university to become a mechanical engineer.

After a few years at school in Vancouver, Michael made the move to London, Ontario where he is currently attending the University of Western Ontario. Since arriving at Western, Michael has been involved with the student run team called Western Formula Racing. Western Formula Racing is a team that designs and builds, from scratch, a fully functional, high performance formula car which is part of the category known as Formula SAE. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) sanctions events across the world where schools come together to compete in a wide range of events and to showcase their race car to their competitors and potential employers.


Hogg on track in Mosport competing at an event (Photo Courtesy: Western Formula Racing)

As Michael states, this is not your average school team, but rather a professional motorsports business.

“The team here at Western Formula Racing are some of the most hardworking and intelligent individuals I have met. Joining last year, I was shocked at the level of detail of design that goes in to each part, as well as just the fact that the big picture of what we are accomplishing in one year’s time is quite remarkable. We build a new car each season which starts with research, followed by detailed CAD design and leads into in depth analysis of each component using computer simulation tools such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) as well as on track testing using last years car. After testing is complete, we manufacture each part and completely assemble the car in house. Then, the team makes our way down to Michigan International Raceway where one of the world’s largest Formula SAE events is held, to compete against approximately 120 other universities from across the globe.”

Last year, Western Formula Racing had one of their strongest years to date, finishing an impressive 16th overall out of 123 teams at the Michigan competition. The tremendous amount of hard work and effort put in by the team members all paid off and there were also great lessons learned to be applied to the 2015 competition. The competition itself is different than what most racers are used to, as it now has a large engineering/design related approach to it. The competition is divided up into two sections: Static and Dynamic, which is quite different than just your normal 25 lap sprint race.

Static events include:

  • Technical inspection (ensuring the vehicle meets all the requirements and stays within the very tight rules…you would be surprised how many teams don’t pass this!)
  • Noise testing (the cars must be under a certain dB level, which often requires some thoughtful exhaust routing and muffler design)
  • Tip test (Raising one side of the vehicle off the ground to a 60 degree angle, judges are looking to see if the car would roll over in the case of extreme lateral G’s pulled around a corner)
  • Business Presentation (The car must be built with the intent of it being mass produced and therefore with a viable business model behind it. This is where business students come in to offer their expertise and ideas)
  • Design Review (The design review is presenting the car to a very experienced panel of judges who inspect the car and ask questions regarding designs. This is arguably the most difficult part of the competition but is the most rewarding as well. Some judges have Formula 1 design experience, so their input is very valuable and their critiques hold a lot of weight)

An example of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) used to illustrate aerdynamic designs and effects (Courtesy: Western Formula Racing)

Dynamic events include:

  • Auto Cross (drivers complete 2 laps of an autocross circuit. The rules are simple…don’t hit any cones, don’t go off track, and complete the lap as quick as possible)
  • Endurance Event (This is the main dynamic event and has a race distance of 20km. The completion of this with no failures, high fuel efficiency and in the shortest time possible is the main goal for teams. Making it to the end of 20km at race pace for a student built race car is quite the feat. How many times has your kart broken down during a race?)
  • Acceleration (A relatively simple event, but one where thousandths of a second often decide a 10 position difference in results. Cars accelerate in a straight line for 75m)
  • Skid Pad (A figure-8 skid pad is used to push cars to their cornering limits and is where the well designed cars, with respect to vehicle dynamics, will really shine)

The respective points from each of these events is then totaled together to give you your final score which is what the overall rankings are based on. As you can tell, the winner of the event really has to be strong in all categories and it is this fact that makes it so challenging.

Hogg feels strongly that the Formula SAE program is a great way for past or present drivers to stay involved with the motorsports scene while attending University and can ultimately make you become a better driver in the long run.

“The Formula SAE program is a must for any motorsports enthusiasts attending university, especially engineering students. The knowledge and experiences that you will gain are priceless and are well recognized amongst the top employers out there. Although last year our result was 16th, I can honestly say that it was the most rewarding race I have ever competed in. The pride and pay off involved gets taken to the next level when you are able to be a part of each and every aspect involved with making a formula car that can finish that competition. Furthermore, I feel it has really helped me with my driving, as I have started to learn and be able to understand what is actually happening with the race car, and have become more focused on how the set-up changes are working, not just on what they achieve. I remember when I raced karts I was quite good and knowing what to change on the kart to say get more front grip, but the knowledge and understanding of why that change did what it did was lacking, and that can be a very important piece of the puzzle to drivers. I think when you understand how things work, you drive differently and in a more efficient way.”


Western Formula Racing Team photo at this year’s University of Toronto Shootout, a huge group effort is needed for every school program. (Photo courtesy: Western Formula Racing)

Although his name isn’t on any current racing series entry lists, Michael is working towards his goal of becoming a mechanical engineer and has found a way to stay involved with the sport he loves at a different level. The Formula SAE program is an incredible one, and one that deserves more recognition and awareness to up and coming drivers out there who are looking to attend university. Each and every Formula SAE team gladly accepts new recruits each year, and provides them with the best platform to succeed possible. Michael is more excited than ever about the 2015 car that is currently in design stage, and us at Canadian Karting News are happy to follow his progress.

“We have a really strong team this year at Western Formula Racing and I can tell you that we have some exciting designs in the works! We have some high expectations for Michigan in May, but that is what’s really pushing us to work hard for the team and university. For now, it’s back to school for me and I hope that we can report some successes throughout the season!”

Michael would like to extend his contact info for any questions regarding the Formula SAE Program.

For anyone who would like to become involved with Western Formula Racing. Please check out the team’s websites at:

Also, check out a video of Michael competing in the University of Toronto Shootout at the Mosport Karting track near Bowmanville, Ontario:

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