Each year, a new group of engineering students joins what they will consider their family for the year. Most of them are mechanical engineers and some are electrical engineers, many are seniors but all are working toward the same goal.
These students are members of Jayhawk Motorsports, KU’s School of Engineering formula car team that builds a combustion-engine car and a hybrid or electric vehicle for competitions every year. Like any team, Jayhawk Motorsports members spend a large amount of time preparing to compete, so much time that Jenni Hanebutt, summer team leader, says they’re not really a team but a family.
“There’s a lot of late nights,” Hanebutt said.
Seniors whose membership in Jayhawk Motorsports is part of their senior capstone project are required to complete 20 hours of work a week, but many times students spend hours upon hours, sometimes as many as 100 hours a week, designing and building the cars.
“They like the thrill of really taking a concept from cradle all the way through,” said Robert Sorem, faculty adviser. “At the end of the year it’s the students’ baby; They conceived it, designed it, built it, did everything for this project.”
The long hours and hard work from more than 45 students resulted in a historic year for the 2011-2012 Jayhawk Motorsports team. In its most recent competition, the Society of Automotive Engineers West competition in June in Lincoln, Neb., Jayhawk Motorsports won first in endurance, second in autocross and design and third in presentation, helping the team to win its first-ever overall first-place trophy.
“The bickering, the fighting, the late nights, that’s what really came together to make us do well in Nebraska,” Hanebutt said.
The team also had success in previous competitions, taking first place with its all-electric car in the electric vehicle division at the Formula Hybrid Competition in April.
“It’s fantastic that this year’s team won, but it wasn’t just this year’s team. It’s everything that all of the students before them have done to build up this project,” Sorem said.
Kansas University’s SAE team was founded in 1993, and in 1995 Sorem took over as faculty adviser. In 2000, Sorem and students began the Jayhawk Motorsports endeavor and began competing in all events, not just combustion.
Since then, the program has grown to include a large number of Jayhawk Motorsports alumni who contribute to the team not only financially, but with expertise and input. They help show why a certain idea won’t work or what the team can do to really push an idea to the next level.
“It’s tough when something is going wrong and having to diagnose that problem but that’s really what makes us engineers,” Hanebutt said.
Hanebutt graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering and credits Jayhawk Motorsports for job offers she received.
Like other Jayhawk Motorsports members, Hanebutt plans on continuing to contribute but as an alumni mentor. She wants future teams to succeed, and the advice from previous members is valuable to building a program.
“Seeing it all come together for a win or even for one event, it is amazing,” she said.