Before FSAE, most of my knowledge about cars came from watching Top Gear and random engineering YouTube videos, so as you’d might expect, this was my very first autocross!
I had woken at 5:30 AM on a Saturday morning, facing desert-like humidity levels and temperatures just shy of freezing — not the best conditions for going outside, but I guess the engine was happy about it. After loading the essentials (tools, food, racing gear, and of course the car) into a rental truck driven by Matt and Kevin, we headed off to the autocross at the MetLife Stadium.
The NJ Transit bus dropped us (Erik, Brian, William, and me) off at around 8 AM to a parking lot full of big-name sports cars. Five other team members were already at the venue, helping put on the finishing touches on our car (by which I mean using zip ties to secure the nose cone and snacking on cookies for breakfast). With the car ready and us feeling sufficiently frozen standing by our lonely rental truck, we headed out to the registration truck to have our four drivers registered.
Registration was rather simple — Matt, Pedro, Jonathan and Ronan signed forms, paid money, and in return received paper bracelets to indicate they were drivers. When drivers aren’t driving the car, they’re assigned safety work. That way, the autocross has enough manpower for the safety stations, without the need for an abundance of volunteers. The jobs of the safety station are to indicate which drivers have hit cones and send runners to reposition knocked-over cones. For us this meant Matt and Jonathan would drive in the first heat and work the second; Pedro and Ronan would do the opposite. (More on this later.)
After registration, drivers and spectators could walk the course. The course was outlined on the parking lot with orange traffic cones, which indicated various turns and slaloms. Our first reaction: “This course is freakin’ huge!” Walking the course took us a good fifteen minutes, and by the time we finished I had already forgotten half the layout.
Driving the course, however, was a different story. Each of our drivers had six runs to prove their skills. Matt posted a time of 65 seconds, and Jonathan posted a 66-second time. Pedro was the fastest, at 63 seconds for a clean run, while Ronan had a 67-second time (though to be fair, his rear tire was half deflated for all his runs). For comparison, the fastest time of the day was around 51 seconds, with a Corvette, but the average was closer to the mid-50s and 60s. Since we were the only competitor in the FSAE category, we technically won our division (we should get a trophy).
Of course, we can’t have an event without someone doing something stupid. If our team gave out an Award for Stupidity, it would go to the one and only “MAAAATTHEW SHERIDANNNN!” When he was supposed to be checking in to work the track, Matt went back to the truck to retrieve a fire extinguisher, taking a suspiciously long time to do so (I bet he stopped to talk to Pedro and Ronan about driving). He ended up infurating the Heat 2 drivers enough to have them screaming in unison, “MAAAATTHEW SHERIDANNNN!! We’re waiting for a Maaaatthew Sheridannnn!” Matt still didn’t make it, so Kevin had to call him. Bravo, Matt.
In case you were wondering, here were the cars in attendance that I managed to identify, though there were plenty more that I couldn’t identify (a task I’ll leave to Brian next time):
- BMW M3, which Erik had shown me in the morning.
- Porsche 911 Carrera and Cayman (those signature red brake calipers…)
- Chevy Corvettes and a couple Camaros.
- Two Lotus roadsters.
- A couple Nissan models. (I think I heard one of the announcers say there was a GT-R there, but I went looking around for those four round taillights and unfortunately didn’t spot them. I’ve only ever seen one once in-person before, and that was last year, when the guy driving it illegally passed me on a single-lane road to test out his acceleration — which left me half angry at the driver and half impressed with the car itself.)
- And a lot of Honda S2000s.
Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be able to identify all the cars in attendance!
Julia Di is a first-year student at Columbia Engineering. When she’s not working on the car, she likes to doodle.