Photos by Ralph Freso
Grand Canyon University’s Canyon Motorsports hit a bump in the road during the pandemic.
“We went a little bit quiet as a team during COVID, and it took a couple of years to regain our traction,” said Tyler Townley, president and chief engineer of Canyon Motorsports, the University's Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team.
But the group doesn’t intend to remain quiet for much longer with the unveiling on Monday of its new Formula 1-styled race car in Antelope Gymnasium. The team wanted to show what it accomplished this year to campus leaders.
Dubbed the Avanzare 6 — avanzare in Italian means advance — touts a step forward in design and engineering from the team’s previous effort.
In 2018, students formed the University’s first Formula SAE team and built its first vehicle for Formula SAE competition. In the international collegiate race car series, students design, manufacture, test, race and manage their own Formula 1-styled vehicles. The GCU team competed in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2019. Electrical woes kept the vehicle from the track, though the team was able to compete in static events.
This time around, the group embarked on a two-year build to gain more testing time so that the vehicle is at its best for competition.
True to its name, the Avanzare 6 “is advancing what the team can do and has the capability of doing,” said Townley, who touted the race car's hand-laminated, carbon-fiber aerodynamics package.
What’s unique about the vehicle is that it is largely manufactured in house, which isn’t always the case for other Formula SAE competition vehicles.
Other big teams work with double the budget — some $60,000-$70,000 — and buy parts from a catalogue.
“About 92% or 93%, an overwhelming majority of the parts (for GCU’s Formula SAE car) are machined in-house at the facilities on campus, in Building 1 (the Engineering Building),” Townley said. “We utilized all kinds of machines that we have on campus, whether that’s the CNC mills, the classrooms we like to get messy, welding. … It’s real fun.”
Making just about everything in house is something “we’re very proud of,” he added.
“It’s kind of our bread and butter and what sets us apart from other colleges.”
In this new iteration, the vehicle has slimmed down quite a bit.
“It lost about a fifth of the weight of the previous car,” said Dr. Kevin Williams, mechanical engineering instructor and Canyon Motorsports’ advisor.
The previous aero package, made of aluminum, weighed 16 pounds; the Avanzare 6's aero package comes in at under 4 pounds. And the chassis shrunk in dimension, too, for a weight savings of more than 100 pounds.
Canyon Motorsports raised about $30,000 to build the race car, with a majority of that financial support coming from outside companies that want to encourage the team’s students in their pursuit of engineering.
“Many industry partners, companies and alumni view that this is the best way for engineers to showcase what they’ve learned and what they can actually do,” Townley said, adding how competing on a team like this not only adds to a student’s learning experience but makes them even more job-ready.
“Tesla actually exclusively hired, in their first couple of years, FSAE (Formula SAE) engineers.”
The Canyon Motorsports team’s next step in 2024 is to enter a Formula SAE competition. SAE created the collegiate competition events to encourage students to get more involved in the automotive and aerospace fields.
“It’s a little bit rough around the edges,” Townley said of the Avanzare, which still needs a paint job. But, “We’re very proud of it.”
Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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