Faster than a speeding polar bear

How fast is a polar bear?

Well, if it’s driving in a Formula SAE race car, it can reach speeds close to 100 kilometers per hour.

The Polar Bear Racing Formula SAE team is comprised of engineering students at the University of Manitoba. The team designs and builds racecars to compete against teams from other universities, with competitions all over the world.

The cars for each team are put through their paces, tested for acceleration, skidpad (a “figure-eight” type track designed to test vehicle cornering), autocross, and an endurance event, which is a 22km autocross race.

Polar Bear Racing Team Leader Ryan Olson has been with the team for three years, seeing his role expand each season.

“During my first year on the team, I helped out with as many different aspects of the car to broaden my understanding of the various systems of the car. In my second year on the team, I became a design lead, which led me to becoming the team lead in my third year on the team.”

Ryan says it was connections he made in the engineering faculty during his first year that drew his attention and interest towards

Formula SAE.

Each team must be part of the student chapter of SAE International, an association of engineering professionals. Members of Polar Bear Racing have to join SAE International individually as well before they can join the team, although they do not have to be studying engineering to join the team.

Off to the races

Formula SAE Racing occurs at international competitions, with teams from all across the globe participating. The Polar Bear Racing team competes in two competitions per year, Formula SAE Michigan in May and Formula SAE Lincoln in June, with the team making the road trip down to the United States.

The team’s most recent excursion was to Lincoln, Nebraska in June, where they competed against 75 other schools, including teams from India, Japan and Brazil.

“The team was extremely excited to finish in 10th place overall,” said Ryan. It was the first time that the team ever finished in the top 10, and the feat earned them a “Spirit of Excellence” award and a trophy to take home.

“We also finished 2nd place in the sales presentation event, giving us another trophy, after our two presenters, Chanelle McKenzie and Quillan Daniel, wowed the judges with their presentation.”

Down the Road

Because Polar Bear Racing is self-funded, it requires funding support to get them into events like those in Nebraska and Michigan. There are other competitions around the world, but the cost and level of competition is very high for those.

“The organization itself is a not-for-profit organization that relies on sponsorship money from companies around the city to fund the manufacturing of the car,” Ryan says. “Many companies provide in-kind sponsorship and help us manufacture specific components of the car.”

No “I” in Polar Bear

The University of Manitoba first started a Formula team back in the 1980s, evolving along the way. The name Polar Bear Racing only came along in the last decade, which likely had something to do with Manitoba being the home of almost 1,000 polar bears.

The team itself is also something that is constantly evolving, with new students and members exiting or graduating.

Despite the ever-changing roster, the team dynamic remains very positive. Working towards a common goal really builds camaraderie.
Balancing schoolwork and working on the car is not an easy feat, says Ryan. Course work comes before the car, and students need to work to ensure that neither one suffers because of the other.

“Being on the Formula isn’t always for everyone given the amount of work evolved, but the experience we gain from designing and manufacturing the car and the fun we have doing make it all worthwhile.”

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