MIDDLEBURY — Rivalries and competitions are common between colleges and universities, most often through sports, but also in other collaborative and competitive ways, such as encouraging student voter turnout.
Last winter, a new student organization at Middlebury College formed to take on a friendly challenge among engineering-minded university students across the country.
It’s a first for the school, and a bit off the beaten path for a small liberal arts college in New England: The students are building a hybrid formula race car and they plan to race it in New England. Hampshire Motor Speedway in Louden, NH, This May.
Middlebury College Formula Hybrid was founded a year ago by then-junior Louis Parizeau, a computer science student who, during the pandemic, developed an interest in go-kart racing.
“I’ve always been into the mechanical stuff, working with my hands, working on mopeds, dirt bikes in my garage,” Parizeau told the Independent. “Sometimes cars, but I’m not very good at that,” he added with a laugh.
Earlier in his college career, Parizeau had considered pursuing a dual-degree mechanical engineering program, which would combine three years at Middlebury with two years at a university like Dartmouth, Columbia, or Rensselaer, and would have earned him two degrees.
In the end he decided against it, but along the way he discovered Formula Hybrid – and wanted to get involved.
Founded in 2006 at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, Formula Hybrid is part of the Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series. Student teams design and build a hybrid (electric and combustion engine) or electric-only race car and compete in a series of annual events at the New Hampshire Speedway.
Events include acceleration (a drag race), autocross (a short race to test handling), endurance (a 44 km race with speeds exceeding 100 mph) and categories for design and project management.
“Most of the teams come from universities that have engineering departments, but Middlebury doesn’t, and I thought that might be a problem,” Parizeau said.
So he reached out to Dartmouth and the University of Vermont, which won the 2020 virtual competition, to see if he could join one of their teams.
But a friend and former student of Midd’s now at Dartmouth told him he should “try to” form his own team.
“So I tried,” he said.
Although Parizeau did much of the initial organization to launch the team – and he has spent the current winter term working there for a credited internship – he stressed that Middlebury College Formula Hybrid is an effort of team.
Working in a welding shop in Bicentennial Hall, a temporary arrangement, seven teams of students focused on key aspects of the car – powertrain, electrical, tires and brakes, chassis and suspension, aero, steering system and engine combustion engine — and there’s a core team of 12 students who regularly contribute to the project, Parizeau said.
The Middlebury team were able to buy a used chassis from the Dartmouth team to help get them started, and eight students from Midd took a four-week welding course at the Hannaford Career Center this winter.
“None of us have a ton of experience,” junior-Feb said. Francesca Whitecross, who looks after the outreach for the team, “but we work together through Louis, who is very meticulous and has an eye for detail.”
Parizeau created a spreadsheet to guide and track the project, she said.
“It’s all really organized with fixed deadlines and details like ‘here’s what’s going to happen’, ‘here’s the cost’, ‘here’s the parts we need to order’, ‘here’s the skills required’ and ‘here’s some videos YouTube on how to do it if you don’t know how to do it.'”
As with anything this complicated, undertaken for the first time, there were challenges.
“At one point we had these weird nuts and bolts that we couldn’t determine the measurements for,” Whitecross said.
They had been included with the parts the team had purchased from Dartmouth, and the plans were confusing. Some of the instructions were written in Italian.
“So we had to look in an Italian mechanic’s practical book,” Whitecross said. “I speak Italian so I was able to translate that, thank goodness. But when you don’t have an established program with 16 mentors, you often have to Google ‘How does it work?’ or ‘What does it mean?’
The hardest part for Parizeau was the meticulous organization, he said. But he likes to do other work.
“I’m learning a lot about electrical wiring, but not at the electrical engineering level, and about sensors and local networks,” he says.
Whitecross, who is majoring in neuroscience and Russian, doesn’t expect to become an engineer, but she’s always loved being around cars and grew up steeped in racing culture.
On the French side of his family, his grandfather was a racing driver. On the Italian side of his family, his great-uncles and great-grandparents were car racers and car collectors, and the family home in Italy is filled with car trophies and “car magazines and catalogs piled from floor to ceiling. “.
So spending time on this project and with the people who are truly passionate about it seemed like a natural extension of her own interests, she said.
STEP BY STEP
Over the next week, the Middlebury Hybrid Formula team are looking to complete an important milestone: getting the chassis rolling.
They were hoping to be done with that part by now, but they’re still waiting for some parts to arrive — an all-too-common situation given manufacturing and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.
In addition to building the car, the team also raised money for the project, to pay for tools, car parts, safety gear for student racers, and transportation to and from the New Hampshire competition.
By Wednesday morning, their Just Giving campaign had raised $13,210 of their $15,000 goal. For more information about the campaign, visit tinyurl.com/middrace22.
During this time, the project began to attract attention on campus.
“We have a waiting list of about 130 people to drive the car,” Parizeau said.
The students are also looking for permanent housing for their hybrid formula team, which Parizeau hopes will persist after she graduates in May.
“Since there is no engineering department, there is not a lot of space to do engineering projects,” Parizeau said. “But the administration worked pretty hard to find us a good place.”
Parizeau is not yet sure what he will do after graduation, he said, and he is unlikely to pursue further studies related to racing cars.
“But I could dedicate some of my time to it, do my own projects and work on it in the garage.”
For more information on Middlebury College Formula Hybrid, visit middleburyformulahybrid.com.