Carnegie Mellon University

cmu racing car on the course

October 01, 2018

Carnegie Mellon Racing has breakout season

By Daniel Carroll

Sam Westenberg and the rest of the Carnegie Mellon (CM) Racing team waited in anticipation as the final results of the 2018 Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) Electric Vehicle Competition were announced.

The team was fairly confident they’d managed to carve out a third-place finish in the competition that pitted the electric car they’d built against cars and teams from dozens of other top engineering universities; it would be a stellar result for a team that had only fielded its first competitive electric vehicle the year prior. Yet when the final standings were read out, the team was shocked.

They’d won.

The team had taken not third, not second, but first place.

It wasn’t the first time the team had taken gold with their newest car, 18e, either. Earlier this year, the team took first place in the electric vehicle category at Formula North in Barrie, Ontario. They also managed to capture first in both the event’s Endurance category and the overall Dynamics category, which encompasses all the events related to vehicle performance.

The response from former team members could not have been more positive.

“The outpouring of support by our alumni once we announced that we had won was incredible,” says Westenberg, team president for the 2018 season. “They were all so excited that the race car platform they had worked on for several years previously was finally paying dividends and performing at a high level.”

It was one of these alumni who had first introduced Westenberg to the team. While it was the technical challenge of building a competitive electric vehicle that drew him in, what truly impressed him was the skill and achievements of the students working at CM Racing.

He joined the team his sophomore year in 2015. At the time, the team had only recently made the switch to an electric vehicle and had yet to drive an EV competitively. In fact, the all-electric class of FSAE itself was only three years old. By the time Westenberg graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, the team’s EV would take first in both major North American Formula SAE Electric competitions.

Since graduation, Westenberg has been working in the automotive industry. He credits much of his interest and decision to enter the field to his involvement with the team, and the skills and connections that came with it.

“Most of our team members will say that the majority of their relevant engineering experience comes from participating in FSAE,” he says. “Many potential employers see it as the most important field on a resume.”

The team has developed strong relationships with a number of industry leaders, and members are often recruited by sponsors and friends such as UBER ATG, SpaceX, Tesla, Boeing, Hyliion, Blue Origin, Ford, and General Motors.

While graduating alumni of the team look to their future careers, those remaining with the team have another season of racing to look forward to.

Though still young in comparison to the internal combustion class of FSAE, the electric class is catching up in leaps and bounds. Teams that struggled just a few years ago to field an electric car that could even drive under its own power are now working to adopt advanced features that could put them on par with their gas-burning cousins in performance. While the competition is ultimately an innovation-driving win-win situation for university teams and industry partners alike, the CM Racing team will have to work hard to maintain their edge in an increasingly competitive environment.

But that is a task for future classes of engineering students. His time with the team now over, Westenberg will join the ranks of supportive alumni. He’s handed over the reins to senior Katie Lam, confident that this year’s team will be able to meet the high bar set by their predecessors.

“Now the minimum expectation is that the car will be competitive,” says Westenberg. “The goal isn’t just to drive—it’s to win.”