Speed Racer

Matt Hawkins
July 31, 2015

A space-age car designed by Bradley seniors made a positive impression at the mid-April Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition in Detroit. The sleek red car caught the attention of an IndyCar legend and others as it shined in Motown.

The four mechanical engineering majors stretched limited human and financial resources to create a vehicle that looked sleek and improved on previous teams’ efforts. By borrowing from aircraft design principles, team members topped 300 miles per gallon on runs.

“I’m proud of the way four of us were able to pull together as well as we did to design a car that looked nice and went according to plan,” said Amanda Doolittle of Peoria. “The Eco-marathon doesn’t have many design constraints, so we were able to explore new ways to do things. It was cool to have that freedom.”

Doolittle and teammates Joyce Atadero of Algonquin, Illinois, Brian Nault of Tinley Park, Illinois, and Alex Weiss of Sugar Grove, Illinois, competed against 112 other teams of high school and college students from five countries. Even though the vehicle didn’t finish among the most fuel-efficient at the competition, the airplane-like carbon fiber shell and riveted seams caught the attention of noted NASCAR and IndyCar team owner Roger Penske.

“I was starstruck that racing royalty stopped by our booth,” said motorsports fan Nault. “I was impressed that Mr. Penske stopped by, asked a few questions and joked with us. It was good to get that attention.”

To make a safe, fuel-efficient vehicle on a shoestring budget, the Bradley team spent the school year brainstorming, talking to alumni, scavenging for parts, validating computer models and learning new skills in the shop. The team reused parts from past years’ engineering projects, utilized spare equipment in the University’s machine shops and found business partners who donated basic materials.

A weight concern led to the aircraft-style aluminum skeleton, carbon fiber shell and rivets. In addition to cutting 20 pounds from the frame, that enabled the team to learn about materials and equipment they otherwise wouldn’t have touched as undergraduates.

They even used a discarded Coke bottle as a quick-fix gas compression chamber.

“Because we were scavenging, we put more innovation into the process,” Weiss said. “We’d look at parts and wonder how those could work. When we found potentially useful parts, we took the time to research and brainstorm ideas.”

Team members were quick to point out the fact that the whole process was completed on the Hilltop. That added to the sense of pride and ownership that drove the team to its achievements.

“Because we had more freedom on this project than our usual classes, we could learn what we wanted. In the end, it was our project,” Weiss said. “Bradley empowered us and gave us the tools to feel like we were doing real engineering work.”