UH Students Building Formula One-Style Race Car


Natalie Thayer
Mottershaw, Abughazaleh and Gallery
Grant Mottershaw,Shibly Abughazaleh and Jacob Gallery

Though the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) once boasted an active University of Houston student chapter, the organization has been dormant on the UH campus for several years. Now, a group of dedicated Cullen College of Engineering students are bringing the student organization back to campus and into the fast lane – literally.

The UH Engineering students responsible for reviving SAE are designing and building a Formula One-style race car from the ground up to compete in the Formula SAE Series (FSAE) races. The FSAE Series are part of the society’s annual Collegiate Design Series developed to encourage students from around the world to “go beyond textbook theory” by designing, building and racing a real vehicle, according to the organization’s website.

Design Project

The new UH SAE group, led by mechanical engineering students Jacob Gallery, Shibly Abughazaleh and Grant Mottershaw, has a busy year ahead. In addition to laying the foundation for the organization, the students will be manufacturing the team’s Formula One-style race car at UH’s Texas Center for Clean Engines, Emissions and Fuels (TxCEF) to enter the 2016 competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The FSAE competition has several vehicle divisions, including internal combustion engines, electric and hybrid vehicles, and is composed of two stages of testing. The first stage is comprised of rigorous design and safety tests, including tilt and braking tests. Only vehicles that pass the static tests move on to compete in the races.

The racing portion, also called the dynamic event, includes straight line acceleration, autocross and endurance challenges. For Gallery, the new UH SAE president, this is the where the greatest excitement lies.

“If we can make it to the dynamic event, I’ll be crying tears of joy,” he said. “Sitting in the cockpit, flipping the glass down on the helmet and waiting for that green flag — that will be everything.” 

In the meantime, the UH FSAE team is in the early stages of building their internal combustion engine vehicle for the competition and plans to begin manufacturing this fall. Gallery said that, if all goes according to plan, the car will be fully running by the middle of the spring 2016 semester. 

New Beginnings

Abughazaleh, UH SAE co-chair and treasurer, first began looking into SAE when he transferred to the Cullen College’s mechanical engineering department two years ago. Despite the lack of a formal SAE organization, he sought out fellow students who shared his passion for automotive engineering and, with that, set the wheels in motion for the UH SAE revival.

Abughazaleh connected with fellow Cullen College student Gallery early on. Gallery said he was immediately interested in the project after talking to Abughazaleh and was excited to join the organization at the ground level. In addition to leading the UH SAE as president, Gallery supports the team as the chief engineer on the FSAE design project.

Recognizing that the burgeoning UH SAE organization would benefit from focused fundraising efforts, Mottershaw approached Gallery about joining the organization’s leadership team. As the UH SAE’s co-chair and business development lead, Mottershaw is responsible for operations, financial management and new member recruitment.

The excitement surrounding the race car design project is palpable. The process of turning concepts into realities, Mottershaw said, is a motivating force on its own. Yet, the mission of UH’s SAE chapter extends beyond this year’s car design. The organization aims to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation and camaraderie across the UH campus and the Houston community, said Gallery.

Currently, the FSAE team is composed of students from various backgrounds and disciplines including mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, as well as architecture, industrial design and computer science. Gallery also said that by encouraging diversity amongst its members, the group is trying to promote an interdisciplinary effort by “[bringing] together a community where it’s not only engineers, but it’s everybody you would expect to see or work with in the future.”

Gallery added that he believes University of Houston students are uniquely equipped to take on the challenge of building a winning race car. “You have a number of people at this school that have what many other universities’ students don’t — and that’s life experience,” he said.

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