It will be tough to beat their best-ever performance last year, when
a University of Alberta automotive design team was the top Canadian entry in the
international Formula Society of Automotive Engineers student
competition in California.

But heading into this year's
competition, team leader Marcus Beaudry is confident their new and
improved high-performance race car has an edge.

"Mainly we've
been working hard on getting a lighter car," he said. "We've actually
managed to shave off about 50 pounds. It's kind of ironic (that the
team did so well last year), since we were a lot heavier than a lot of
the cars on the field."

Last year's team finished 15th overall, as well as second in fuel economy and fifth in acceleration. It was the U of A's 10th
year in the competition, with students from the departments of
mechanical and electrical engineering and, at times, even the School of
Business. This year's team of 17 has been putting in thousands of hours
in an attempt to top an already impressive record.


About 80
teams from five continents have been working under the premise that
they've been hired as design engineers for a manufacturing firm that
wants to mass produce a weekend autocross racer, with restrictions on
engine size and intake capacity.

Vehicles are judged in a number of
categories, such as design, aesthetics, marketing plan, cost analysis
and performance, including acceleration, breaking, fuel economy,
individual time and cornering capability.

The main source of
last-minute jitters this year has been adjusting to a new control unit
in the Honda CBR600 F4i engine, says Beaudry.

"We're hoping we
can get the engine back in shape. We had to switch our control units,
and the new one functions a little differently...But we've made a lot
of progress in the last few days."

With some re-used parts and
in-kind donations for heat treating, chassis-tube cutting and welding,
the bill for this year's car came in at about $40,000, which is covered
by a number of sponsors and the Faculty of Engineering. From scratch it
would cost about $80,000 to build a similar car, says Beaudry.

in at 209 kilograms, the "ABR 09" has a body made of carbon fibre and
has a steel chassis and suspension. The rest of the components are made
of aluminum.

Designing the car has been "probably the single
greatest learning experience of my life," said Beaudry of designing
this year's car.

"You learn a lot more about how your courses relate together, and exactly how your education is going to be used."

nothing that compares to it," says team member Daniel Vaandrager. "It's
the most fun I've had ever. It's nice to have the thrill of fixing
something that's broken."

Fans of the vehicle and local media
were able to see it hit the track at Stratotech Park near Fort
Saskatchewan Thursday as it ran a few test laps before making the long
trek to Los Angeles in a trailer next week.

The competition takes place from June 17-20.

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