For college engineering students who participate in the SAE International competitions, everything is a challenge.
The student teams typically are clubs, not formal school-organized groups. Their budgets are small, at best, which puts a premium on attracting some sponsors. For most, the “test track” is a parking lot somewhere on campus.
When FCA opens the Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan to teams from nearly two dozen schools to spend a few days testing and working on their entries for the Formula SAE, Formula SAE Hybrid, Formula SAE Electric and Baja SAE competitions, it’s a real boost to their efforts.
Students – more than 250 of them this year – also get a glimpse of what their future could be as an FCA engineer. This is the sixth year Chelsea has hosted the Test & Tune event, – which is set up to mimic the actual SAE competition, from the technical inspection to the competitive driving.
Read our related blog post: FCA engineers its future with student talent
“It gives the students a chance to break it here as opposed to breaking something in competition,” says Matt Reynolds, FCA Senior Manager for Sustainability and Business Continuity and organizer of the Test & Tune event. “It also gives us a chance to interact with the students. It’s like an extended interview that lets them meet FCA and we meet them.”
The proving grounds provides the Formula SAE teams a large, barrier-free asphalt surface to hone their open-wheel cars and driver skills against the clock in a road course layout with plenty of runoff area for safety. The Baja SAE teams tested their designs and suspension moxie on a portion of the Lyman Trail, where FCA engineers challenge Trail Rated Jeep® vehicles in extreme conditions.
FCA engineers help manage the test courses and serve as real-world sources of expertise for students.
“We are allowed to share our expertise, but it’s based on the students’ needs,” Reynolds says. “If the students have questions, we’re herelp to help and facilitate. But we’re not here to answer questions they are not asking.”
For some FCA engineers, the memories of visiting Chelsea as a student for the Test & Tune sessions are still fresh.
“We always looked for an opportunity to test our car because you can only do so much in design work,” says Amanda Lind, an engineer in SRT Vehicle Integration who attended Test & Tune at Chelsea with her Baja SAE student team.
Lind recalls visiting the proving grounds as a student was an eye-opening experience. “You get to test your car on a professional facility and as a student there’s an element of awe and inspiration being here,” she says.
Chelsea Proving Grounds is where the future of FCA takes shape – mostly under wraps. It’s also a place where today’s college engineering student gets a test drive of their potential professional career as an FCA engineer.