"Spark" Races in 2013 Formula Hybrid Racing Competition

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MHybrid
Spark on the track at the NH Motor Speedway

In their second year of competition, the Michigan Hybrid Racing team and their car, Spark, overcame several obstacles on their way to a 4th place finish in the 2013 Formula Hybrid Racing Competition, held at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway April 29-May 1. They also took 2nd place in the Chrysler Innovation Award.

Being able to actually race a car is one of the biggest hurdles at the track. Only half the teams were able to compete in this portion of the competition. It was a close call for Michigan as well.

Tech Inspection Drama

Brian Grewe, junior in electrical engineering and the Electrical lead for the team, recalled the scene: "On the last day of testing we had a problem with the brake test - and heard over the loudspeaker, 'This is the last call to get in line for the endurance test. You have to be in the pit area now.'

Jason Schneider  
Jason Schneider

"We finally got the brakes to work, but still had to load the software onto the car and get to fueling. We loaded the software really quickly and stepped on the acceleration pedal to do a test, but the front two wheels spun backwards instead of forwards [this was caused by a wiring issue that was introduced in another portion of the testing]. So while we were jogging with the car to fueling, Jason (Jason Schneider, a master's student in the Energy Systems Engineering program) was frantically running next to the car with his laptop trying to adjust the code to switch the direction of the wheels."

"Jason quickly made the adjustments, but cautioned, 'we never had the chance to test this. It should work - but it might not.' It's like getting an EECS 280 project to compile on the first run – it hardly ever happens. But it worked the first time! We got to the endurance test at the last minute, and finished 11 laps."

"The whole thing was very exciting," said Jason. "It was amazing to actually see all of our hard work on the car finally come together and allow us to compete."

The Highlights and Future of MHybrid

When asked what were the greatest moments of the competition, Sam Haberl, co-leader of the entire team, said with a tone of reverence, "Oh – watching it drive – watching it drive. And getting the innovation prize."

Presentation
Sam Haberl, team co-captain, answering questions about Spark. They received 2nd place in the Chrysler Innovation Award.

"Everybody at the competition loved this car," added Sam, a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering. "Our car has a very unique powertrain, and we use regen[erative] braking. And it flies – it's a muscle hybrid, it's very fast. We also have excellent handling because we have all wheel drive power."

The team is very optimistic about their chances next year, and Sam believes a win is definitely possible. The team arrived a day late to the competition due to circumstances beyond their control, and that hurt them. A team can't win first prize, including the Chrysler Innovation Award, if they don't participate in every event, and they missed the first day.

While they design and build their next car, Spark may participate in other racing events, such as a Michigan Autocross.

Brian will be working at Ford this summer, working in their hybrid controls laboratory. "I got the job because of my work on the team," he said. He'll be back with the team next year.

Sam will be graduating at the end of the year, and will act as an advisor to the team. He's interning at Toyota this summer, and has multiple interviews with other companies for a full time job once he graduates. "I like doing the vertical integration, big picture work. Basically what I do for the team is what I want to do for the rest of my life."

The team
Members of the MHybrid team at the 2013 Formula Hybrid Competition

Catharine June (cmsj@umich.edu)
Communications Coordinator
EECS/Electrical & Computer Engineering