top of page

2017 Formula South: OR-16's Last Competition

Alright, so, time for another write-up on Owls Racing. It’s spring break now and midterms are over, so I finally have time to sit down and write again.

Let me preface this by saying that while only six of us went to Georgia, we would not have been successful without the help of everyone at home. It took a team over thirty to build that car. Congratulations are in order for all of Owls Racing.

Prepping for Kennesaw

Originally, we wanted bring OR-17. As the end of January came, we quickly realized that wasn’t going to be an option. The chassis was still in the jigs with no rear suspension, meaning it would be a while before it was rolling, let alone running. Marco and Halle decided that only a very select few would be going to Georgia in order to keep production on OR-17 moving at full speed. The ones who were going would have to be in roles that could be absent for a weekend and knew how to drive the car. Six were chosen.

About a week or two before competition, the six of us (Jeron Bornstein, Mathew Burgos, Seth Chapman, Obrien Lavin, Joshua Mesnick, and myself) began practicing with OR-16. We’d go out to Lot 5, get in the car, finish everything we needed to in a timely manner, and come back to the shop. It was actually pretty nice having a small group for testing. Goofing around was at a minimum, everyone knew what they were doing, we had a game plan, we got in, got out, and took no prisoners. Hopefully we can continue with small testing crews to get as much testing on the new car as we can.

The night before we left, it was time for briefings and packing the trailer. Marco put me in charge of the team minus who was going to be driving the events, which he left to our Testing Lead Joshua Mesnick. Being the cautious and calculated person I am, I wanted to make sure everyone knew what they were doing on the trip so we could operate as efficiently as possible. We went over times, locations, schedule of events for Saturday, possible scenarios regarding repairs, and other miscellaneous items. Once we were all on the same page, it was time to pack.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the trailer packed that light in my three years on the team. Our method of packing was to bring whatever we could realistically troubleshoot and replace in a span of about four hours. The event was 0800 to 1700, with driving starting at 1000 and a break from 1230 to 1345. Things to leave behind were welders, presses, grinders, raw materials, suspension corners, most electrical stuff, and a whole host of tools and other spares. Basically, we brought what we couldn’t get at Advanced Auto or things we wouldn’t think KSU would have at their shop. Mat and Jeron brought their own tools, so we left the massive black toolbox we normally bring at home for the rest of the team to use. We brought a built spare engine, fluids, basic electrical components, and that was about it. It was scary to see the trailer that empty…

Trailer gets packed, we say bye to the team, and we go home to try and get some sleep before our very early wakeup call the following morning. The meeting time was 0530 at the shop, with wheels up at 0600. Three of us jumped in the Ford Fusion we rented while the other three jumped in the truck. Since it was just the two vehicles, we caravanned up together. I can’t say how the ride in the truck was, but my car had a decent ride up.

We arrived in Marietta, GA at 1700 on the dot. As the first team to arrive, we got to chill with the wonderful folks hosting the event, KSU Motorsport. We had gone last year and made great friends with KSU, so everyone instantly picked up car talk and began trading tips on how to improve designs. That kind of comradery is rare amongst teams, especially since racing in general is so heated and competitive. We went off to dinner at Sonny’s, had one final meeting, and then headed back to one of the KSU houses to sleep. I had been running on minimal sleep and knew the next day was going to be long, so I fell asleep before my head hit my pillow on the floor.

Competition Day

I didn’t get much sleep… Someone was playing a racing game downstairs that reverberated throughout the whole house which meant it reverberated through my pillow. But, it was now time to get up and get the day started. Gates opened for teams at 0830. I wanted to make sure we all had a decent breakfast beforehand so we went to Chik-fil-a. These poor people behind the counter had no idea what was coming.

Apparently, Clemson had the same idea we did… And they had upwards of thirty people there in contrast to our six. As we pull in to Chik-fil-a, we see all these orange shirts in the parking lot. Oh boy, this is going to be a looooong wait. As the forty or so red-eyed engineers walk in to the restaurant, the two poor ladies at the registers looked at us in terror. Luckily, the manager knew how to handle a bunch of half-asleep race fuel-addicted students and put everyone they could on the register. We got our food in no time. That was a good sausage biscuit…

We roll up to the university and begin unpacking the car and going through checklists. A KSU guy came by, did a brief tech inspection to make sure we could kill the car in an emergency, and we moved down the hill to the main event area. The first event of the day was acceleration.

Mat and I were chosen for accel. We had both done it before and practicing accel is extremely tough on OR-16, so not many others had been able to try it out. Mat went first and bogged the engine both times. Launch control kept the RPMs too low for his weight (because F=ma), but he still put down a decent time of 3.419s, faster than Clemson at 3.441s. I got in the car after him and launched manually. Looking at the video, I launched a little too low. It bogged on me as well, so on my run later in the afternoon (KSU didn’t time my first run, only my second) I launched with launch control triggered and pulled a 3.218s… WHICH WAS 0.04 SLOWER THAN KSU. I was so close! I missed a shift at the end of the run that would have probably shaved off that last little bit. Oh well. That was still a pretty good event, taking second behind KSU.

Next was skid pad. Mat and Obrien drove this one. The suspension was set a little too high, so both Mat and OB complained they couldn’t push the car any harder. It didn’t help that the area in which skid pad was set up was also at an angle… With a time of 5.673s, we placed sixth. The highlight of that event, though, was Georgia Tech. They brought two cars: the one they brought last year and the one they took to Michigan. The one from last year (deemed the non-aero car) was not having a good day. They almost finished their run when all of a sudden smoke begins billowing from the engine area. As they come around the turn, I see oil everywhere. It’s just dripping off the undertray of the car. The vehicle comes to a violent halt just before the timing cones and the driver jumps out. Luckily, there’s no fire, but that engine might be done competing. The team grudgingly pushed their car back to the staging area, oil dripping off the block.

Lunch time! While KSU was busy cleaning up after GT, I finally had time to say hello to our supporters aka everyone’s families. I had all of my family from Georgia stop by, Mat had his dad visit, and Josh had a few family members stop by to check out the car. Showing our families what we spend our very very late nights doing was pretty cool; we all send them pictures of what we do, but to see the car run and to see how fast it actually drives is another thing entirely. There’s nothing like the sound of our custom-built Suzuki GSX-R600 motor running up to 13,500 rpm as we go screaming down the track to get the hearts going.

Georgia Tech still couldn’t manage to figure out their cars. The non-aero car couldn’t get going in time for endurance. They blew oil all over the track on their first run of skid pad, essentially pulling them from the race. This was the same car that had numerous issues at last year’s event. Their aero car, the one that competed at the 2016 FSAE Michigan event, also had issues. During acceleration, they couldn’t shift. By the time endurance came around, they still hadn’t solved the issue. The driver would try and literally slam the car into the next gear but couldn’t get it out of first or second. Eventually the car started smoking as he drove down the back straight; the clutch was now completely burnt. They definitely wouldn’t be shifting now. They did manage to complete endurance, but it was nearly a full two minutes behind us and Clemson; each lap by us was about 37s, with a total of twenty laps.

KSU, as much as we love them, also had issues. They only got a few laps in before an internal bearing in the engine failed. They were putting in strong laps as well. They came around a corner, driver got on the gas, and the engine was like “Eehhhhhhno, I’m out. PEACE! *dead*.” They could’ve done very well if it hadn’t been for the engine failure.

UF, much to our disbelief, did not come out swinging. Everyone agreed that they were not pushing their car as hard as they could’ve. The drivers were slow and making huge errors in choosing lines. Granted, they were the only team with a brand-new car, but still. It’s Gator Motorsport; they’re supposed to be the best of the best. Our theory is they came just to gather data on the car and not beat it to death like the rest of us were doing with our cars. They’ll be a team to continue to watch for sure.

We ran second to last. I was driver one and Josh was driver two. Ten laps, driver change, then another ten. Due to the small course, there would not be any other cars on track but we would be doing the driver change in front of everyone instead of going behind the scenes to do it. This was going to be interesting.

I had driven the course last year but only for autocross. This would be considerably longer, but I like the longer races better; I get a chance to warm up and get comfortable. The team strapped me in, GoPros on, fist bumped my little cousin, and off I went. Green flag drops, launch first second brake turn in hold it right left sweeping right easy on the gaaaaaas FLOOR IT third brake second right left right hard left right stay wide to the left… drop down to the right staying wide for late apex avoid painted lines keep it tight pedal floored jog left jog right back up the hill stay wide left drop back down to the right across the finish line, wash, rinse, repeat.

The course is fast and tight. Looking at the data, we were hitting 62 mph on the back stretch with the relatively huge elevation change; speed limit is 25. My first lap was 42.065s; by the end I had gotten down to 36.438s. Clemson had one 34.4s lap and was getting consistent mid-35’s. From a driver’s perspective, the course was one of the coolest rides I’ve ever been on. I imagine that’s what Spa would be similar to. In our highlight reel of the event you can see Josh haul mail in the back of the track. Going from harsh sun to driving 50+ through the trees is a rush like no other. The threat of danger is at its highest back there: get on the gas too early and you spin; jump the lines at the wrong time and you spin; overcorrect and you’re gone. You really have to thread the needle, which is true in all forms of racing. We all know what’s at stake, and we know when to push things. A good driver in this competition knows his limits and when to back off, because if anyone were to get hurt at any of these events, that would be the end of FSAE as a whole (leaving us sans racecar-ing and without a purpose in life).

By the time I hit the checkered flag, I was just starting to get warmed up and felt really good about my times and wanted to keep going. But now was not the time to dream about doing more laps. My next job was to get out of the car as fast as possible and relay any information to my partner getting in. I was yellow’d into the driver change area. Before I even stopped the car, my hand was already on the quick release of the harness. Come in as fast as I reasonably could, slam on the brakes, *click* push down draw my knees up jump out of the car run to the front. As Obrien and Mat strapped Josh in, I told Josh how the car felt; I could do the whole track in second gear, the brakes were acting funny, DON’T YOU DARE CROSS THOSE F****** LINES, you can probably go flat out on the whole back end if you’re careful, shifting is acting weird.

I swear I put the car in first before coming in to change. Jeron said the same. Josh couldn’t get the car rolling… He’d rev it up high, like seven grand high, and still stall it. I could tell he was barely moving the clutch, but it would still stall. There was a change on our shifter earlier that day that might have kept it from shifting properly, and the gap between first and second gear is pretty large (that’s where neutral sits). He finally managed to get the thing going and we we’re back in the race. That one puzzled all of us… To explain his drive, here's the man himself.

"Being my very first Formula SAE race and not competitively karting since I was 12, I was a little nervous when we started the day. I’ve had a decent amount of practice in the car the week before but nothing substantial. The morning of the event I was feeling a little nervous for not performing in front of a crowd in a while. But by the time my event came around and I was suited up I was perfectly calm, "The Iceman" as my dad would call me in karting for being smooth and calm only thinking about what I needed to do in the car. Apart from the brakes not functioning properly and the suspension being a little high the overall performance of the car was smooth. Because of the brakes, coming into a turn the back end of the car wanted to kick out and oversteer. When coming out of the turn there was a lot of wheel spin since traction control was not active. When I was pulling away from the driver change the car would not shift into first gear. I tried downshifting pulling up to the line but it wouldn't budge so I had to start in second and complete all of endurance in second gear.

At the beginning of endurance, I had to adjust to the car as I have never driven the track or car setup. As I got use to the brakes I found places where I could push the car and places where I should keep it in control. Coming downhill and onto the back section I was able to keep the throttle down through the entire section even when the back end was getting loose I continued to keep my foot down and keep pushing. It was a great event and lots of fun. The team did a great job for bringing home 2nd place. We had two new endurance drivers along with two new skid pad drivers. We sacrifice coming in first at Georgia so we can have better and faster drivers for Michigan. "No sacrifice, No victory" – Archibald Whitwicky, Transformers" - Joshua Mesnick

Not sure about the Transformers quote, but it works. Josh's driving was impressive to watch. He would whip it around the u-bends, get on the gas, and go flat out in the back. He laid down consistently improving times, starting out with a 40.499s lap and quickly going down to the low 37’s and 36’s. His best was 36.374. For a heavy car, no aero, bad brakes, and ok suspension setup, that’s pretty good. We both only hit a few cones, but even taking out the penalties associated with them we wouldn’t have passed Clemson. Our total time was 747.8 seconds while Clemson was 683.3 seconds. It was a well-fought event and tons of fun to watch for both teams and spectators alike.

That was the end of our driving. We placed second overall, and I think everyone that went was ok with that. We were an effective team that worked well together, everyone knew what they were doing, we performed our best, and represented what FAU has to offer. We’re just some guys from South Florida who know how to build and race racecars. FAU may not be known yet for engineering and SAE, but we’re making waves and putting our name out there.


A big congratulations is in order for everyone involved with the OR-16 build. Owls Racing is more than the six who went to Georgia. We are team of over 35 students, from accounting to neuroscience to psychology, that work day and night to build the coolest project at Florida Atlantic. So, when we go to Michigan in May, we’ll be there in force and ready to take on the competition by storm!

None of this would be possible without the amazing support we receive from the university, namely Dr. Hashemi and (now retired) Dorothy Russel. Dr. Hashemi is the Department Chair of Ocean & Mechanical Engineering and goes above and beyond to help us get whatever we need to be successful, whether that’s help with sponsors, getting things done in the university, or getting us facetime with classes for recruiting. Dorothy Russel is the former CFO and has always made sure the university has been there for us financially, allowing us to continue to represent FAU to the best of our ability and build the coolest car on campus.

Now that it’s spring break for us, I’ll be catching up on all my media stuff. Expect updated web pages, more pictures and videos, and perhaps another blog post. Thank you to all of supporters: faculty, sponsors, families, understanding girlfriends, and the beds we never sleep in. Nine weeks until Michigan… Now is the time you’ll want to be following us; it’s going to be an interesting ride from now until May!

- Kipp

bottom of page