By From the Lowell Sun
By Jennifer Myers
LOWELL -- It started with 19 UMass Lowell engineering students with limited knowledge of automotive mechanics, no manufacturing experience and zero budget.
Ten weeks later, a formula-style race car emerged from the wind tunnel at North Campus' Ball Hall and was being shipped to the Virginia International Raceway to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineering's annual event.
The first-timers from Lowell drove away with a second-place finish in the rookie division, second only to Central Piedmont Community College, whose team spent two years designing and building their entry.
UMass Lowell's River Hawks Racing team placed 21st overall in a field of 44 teams, from schools with some of the best engineering programs in the world, with budgets as high as $250,000, seasoned in competing in events all around the world.
This April marked the first time a team from the university has competed in the SAE event since 1996.
"A student heard from a neighbor that the school used to have a team and started asking around," said mechanical-engineering major Krithika Swaminathan, of Lexington. "We found out that we did actually have a team, it just was not active."
The team was quickly revived by an enthusiastic group of young engineering students who had no idea how to make a car and had no money with which to do so.
Engineering Professor James Sherwood, director of the university's Baseball Research Center, stepped up to advise the newly formed team and secured the bulk of the team's $25,000 budget in the form of a loan from the center.
The 600-pound, six-gear car, powered by a 75-horsepower Honda CBR 600 F3 motorcycle engine, is named the "Bat-mobile" in honor of its benefactor.
"Everything on this car was built here in this 20-by-20 space," said engineering student Troy Lundstrom, of Andover, standing in the UMass Lowell Police garage where the car is stored. "We quickly learned how to weld, but one of the biggest problems is that we do not have all of the welding tools we need."
The team hit their share of potholes in the road to success, pulling multiple all-nighters to finish the car in time, realizing that they just did not have the money to build the body out of carbon fiber as designed. They ended up going with the less expensive, twice-as-heavy fiberglass material.
"It was a great learning experience that really compliments the engineering curriculum already in place here at the university and brings attention to what you can do in engineering," said Swaminathan.
In Virginia, members of the River Hawks team saw wheels fly off cars and other cars explode as they were put through the rigorous judging process, which included navigating hairpin turns, a 13.1-mile endurance test and a 2.2-mile autocross event and a strict inspection.
"It was awesome," said Lundstrom.
So, how fast can the Bat-mobile go?
The team has gotten it up to 70 miles per hour in third gear in the university's South Campus parking lot.
"We don't really know how fast it could go, we don't really have that amount of road space," said Swaminathan.
The team is in the process of designing a new car, from scratch, to compete next April and May in Virginia and in Detroit, and is seeking sponsorships.
The new model will upgrade to fuel injection and have a carbon fiber body.
"It is a good project to boost school pride, since we don't have a football team," said Lundstrom.
For more information on the River Hawks Racing team, visit www.m-5.eng.uml.edu/fsae.