(University of Akron) Tanya may be small, but she’s mighty. In her sleek Yellowjacket-esque jersey that’s black with yellow trim (which proudly bears the name of her hometown — Akron), she zips around like a small wasp. She’s becoming quite the worldly athlete, having faced opponents in Canada and now more in Europe.
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As an open-wheel formula racecar, Tanya is the most important member of Zips Racing, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Formula Team at The University of Akron (UA).
Properly named ZR18, “Tanya” is with her student engineers in Hockenheim, Germany, all this week for the Formula Student Germany competition. Just days prior, Zips Racing placed 21st overall out of 30 teams at Formula Student Austria in Spielberg, Austria. It’s the only U.S. team to compete in both European competitions this year (after having passed rigorous qualifications).
Zips Racing is one of about 100 student SAE teams in the U.S. that competes against other universities from around the globe. The team has nearly 40 members, a dozen of which are attending the competitions in Europe.
“Once you are bitten by the Formula SAE bug, it’s hard not to spend a lot of time with it; it becomes your passion,” said team captain Ezra Malernee, a senior mechanical engineering technology major. “I truly believe that the young men and women that come from Zips Racing are (some of) the best engineers and business students that are enrolled at the University, and (help to) put Akron on the map.”
The organization developed in 1989 when UA’s formula combustion team was formed. The first competition was in Lawrence, Mich. in May 1990. The team placed 15th out of 42 teams.
Zips Racing is funded primarily through UA’s College of Engineering, along with donations from foundations and local sponsors. Beasts like the ZR18 vehicle cost around $80,000 to build. The racecar sports specially designed Formula SAE tires from The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and has an improved aerodynamics package from last year’s model, resulting in a 30 percent increase in downforce. Its top speed is 60 mph.
Racecars entered in Formula SAE racing events are judged on such factors as cost, innovation, acceleration, design and other aspects.
“Being a team member of Zips Racing is a real commitment,” said Daniel Deckler, student design teams adviser and a professor of engineering. “Through the course of a year, students will spend thousands of hours — often working through the night — designing and manufacturing the vehicles. This is truly a hands-on learning experience because the students learn skills in electronics, aerodynamics, chassis construction and mechanical engineering, and develop soft skills like project management.”
Before the European competitions, Zips Racing placed sixth out of 114 teams – outranking all U.S. teams – at Formula SAE Michigan in Brooklyn, Mich., in May, and ninth at Formula North 2018 in Ontario, Canada, in June. UA’s team was the only one from Ohio to finish in the top 10 in either competition.
Zips Racing is one of several successful student design teams in the College of Engineering at UA, which is the only university in the U.S. to have Formula, Baja, Human-Powered Vehicle, Concrete Canoe and Robotics teams all place in the top 10 in at least one of their respective competitions in the 2017-18 season.
“It is an incredible testament to UA’s College of Engineering that we are the only American engineering college that has this many top-ten finishes in this many competitions,” said Deckler. “And this happens year after year; this year isn’t just a fluke.”