GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Video courtesy of WUFT 5 News Gainesville with contribution from sports reporter and Race Chaser Online Open Wheel correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — WUFT 5 photo — While the summer heat reaches its peak in August, many students get away from Gainesville to unwind from a stressful semester before returning to campus for the fall semester.
However, a group of engineering students at the University of Florida is staying at school this summer, but in the shop instead of the classroom.
Founded in 1991 with the intention of providing a unique hands-on experience, Gator Motorsports continues to grow and compete. Each spring, a crew of approximately twenty members enters an open wheel race car in the prestigious Formula SAE competition at Michigan International Speedway.
At the 2014 event in May, the Honda powered entry placed ninth, ahead of other schools from around the world in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The other eleven months of the year are spent hard at work designing, and manufacturing, and marketing the machine.
“We’re just passionate about engineering, and being passionate about engineering is what drives us to continue. That’s why we come here every day,” said UF junior David Kanner, the president of Gator Motorsports.
The final product last season was capable of accelerating from 0-60 miles per hour in just over four seconds and cornering at 1.5 times the force of gravity, but each year brings the challenge of starting all over again and designing a new machine from scratch.
The 2014 model sits in the center of the garage floor now, but the upcoming car has not been finalized. By September, the team hopes to finish converting a litany of computerized and hand drawn designs into a new and improved entry.
Gator Motorsports has been successful in recent years based on Formula SAE scoring that grades acceleration, business presentation, and efficiency, but the results haven’t come without hard work. Most crew members are asked to spend an average of twenty hours each week in the garage.
“There is a little bit of impatience to just want to get it done, get it finished, and get it driving. But, it is one day at a time,” said crew member Peter Cooper.
Although the students’ extensive volunteer labor is cheap, the process of constructing and perfecting the new race car is not. Gator Motorsports is funded partly by alumni and donations, but most of the budget in excess of $50,000 comes from sponsorship. Among the recognizable names helping in part to fund the operation are Fortune 500 companies Boeing and Procter & Gamble.
Porsche and Gulf have contributed as well, with the 2014 car actually paying homage to a famous Gulf-sponsored Porsche sports car livery raced in the 1970s by Steve McQueen, among others.
Gator Motorsports rarely breaks from building, working most days throughout the year including weekends and some holidays. Once the checkered flags waves in Michigan, the result are worth the wait.
“Over the past five years, we’ve done remarkably well at improving our results from the previous year. We’ve gone from 43rd to 27th, to 19th, to 10th, and now we’re at 9th place,” said Kanner. “We’d love to continue that momentum.”
Next year’s Formula SAE event is over nine months away, but Gator Motorsports is already pushing ahead at full throttle.