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May 18, 2010

Speed racers: Rose-Hulman’s Human Powered Vehicle Team rides away with third straight national championship

TERRE HAUTE — Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Human Powered Vehicle Team ended the racing year with its best-ever performance, riding off with a clean sweep of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ East Coast Challenge competition this spring to capture a third consecutive national championship.

The team’s dominating performance in the unrestricted division featured first place honors in the women’s drag race, men’s drag race, utility endurance race, speed endurance race and design report and presentation, along with the Sportsmanship Award.

The performance marked the sixth straight victory for Rose-Hulman in ASME’s East and West Coast competitions. The team earlier earned first-place overall honors at the western challenge on April 23-25 in Northridge, Calif.

“Overall, [the East Coast event] was definitely the best weekend we have ever had as a team,” stated Team Leader Jeff Van Treuren, a senior mechanical engineering major. “We worked very hard to get to where we were at the start of the weekend and by the end of the races we not only performed well, but we showed everyone that a vehicle designed for utility and practicality can be fast and agile as well.”

The ASME’s Human Powered Vehicles Challenge provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate engineering students to demonstrate the application of sound engineering design principles in the development of sustainable and practical transportation alternatives.

Students design and build efficient, highly engineered vehicles for everyday use — from commuting to work and carrying groceries from the market.

The unrestricted division, which combines speed and utility events, had Rose-Hulman competing against teams from the University of Wisconsin, U.S. Naval Academy, Villanova, Drexel University, Rutgers University, University of Louisville, Ohio Northern University and Ferris State University. Other teams competed in a speed division. At the West Coast Challenge, the unrestricted class included competition from the University of Oklahoma, Colorado State University, Boise State University, University of Houston and California State University-Los Angeles.

The final event of the East Coast competition was the 2.5-hour speed endurance race for unrestricted and speed class vehicles on the Stafford Motor Speedway near Hartford, Conn. Rose-Hulman was victorious around the half-mile oval course among the more than 20 competitors, including top competitors University of Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly Missouri-Rolla), Rochester Institute of Technology and Olin College.

“That was the highlight of the weekend and, perhaps, our three-year championship run,” admitted Chris Wlezien, a senior mechanical engineering major. “It is a great feeling to be a national leader in human powered vehicle development. In the grand scheme of things, it is super important to the environment that we develop human powered sustainable transportation vehicles that are not only practical, but also fast enough to make a commute comparable to other means of transportation.”

The team has won championships with three unique and innovative vehicle designs. This year’s swift vehicle, affectionately nicknamed Ragnarök, featured two-wheel/three-wheel convertible tilting trike mechanism. The concept earned the Knovelty Award for design innovation at the West Coast Challenge. The sleek body was constructed from lightweight carbon fiber materials. The front-wheel drive vehicle is capable of achieving 46.4 mph.

“This year we set out to prove that utility and speed do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Van Treuren stated. “We accomplished both goals, while setting new standards for vehicle design and flexibility.”

Wlezien added: “We take great pride in our abilities to think outside the box while still implementing sound engineering practices to develop durable and effective machines. The team has learned to grow to embrace old ideas while desperately hunting for new ones. That gave us an edge, without many drawbacks.”

Rose-Hulman’s squad also showcasing their problem-solving skills at the West Coast competition. During the drag race event, the vehicle suffered a major mechanical failure in the drive train. The pedal arms seized, and the bracket which houses the arms was torn loose from the vehicle. Quick fixes could not solve the problem. Failing to compete in several male and female racing events, the team was losing valuable points and falling in the overall competition standings.

Faculty Advisor Michael Moorhead, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was able to obtain access to a machine shop at a nearby university, and members developed a creative and rugged fix in a short amount of time.

However, the mechanical miscues weren’t over. The team overcame two flat tires to win the utility race. Then, two more small failures cost the team nearly three laps in the endurance race. However, the riders were able to make up an enormous amount of time to earn a second-place finish in the race -- and overall first place in the competition.

“The ability of our team to respond so quickly to these failures we experienced kept our team from falling too far behind,” said Andrew Bomar, a junior mechanical engineering major.

Moorhead added: “The performance at the West Coast competition was another testament to our team’s ‘never say die’ tradition.”

Joining Van Treuren and Wlezien as veteran team members were senior mechanical engineering majors Rachelle Cobb, Sean Hannon and Eddie Mayhew. Other team members contributing to this year’s winning efforts were mechanical engineering majors Andrew Bomar, Jeff Dovalovsky, Cole Pearson, Ethan Rockett, Petras Swissler, Jeremy Webb and Ariel Young, and biomedical engineering major Rebecca Bowermaster. Michael Moorhead, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, serves as the team’s faculty advisor.

“We started the year as a team of highly motivated and knowledgeable students working together to solve a ‘problem.’ However, even after we solved that problem we realized that our true victory is that we worked together in such a synergy that we couldn’t help but smile almost every second of the entire (East Coast challenge) weekend,” Wlezien said. “The team grew into a family by the end of our West Coast and East Coast adventures.”

New challenges await Rose-Hulman’s team as it has been selected to host the 2011 ASME East Coast Challenge next spring at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This event is expected to attract teams from throughout the world.

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