When students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette formed a Formula SAE team, Ragin’ Cajun Racing, they appeared to face an uphill battle to become a relevant club.
The team is thriving now and has exceeded expectations after being revitalized. They’ve taken their performance to a new level, as they’ve gone on to compete nationally against teams throughout the world.
Building a Formula SAE car serves as a way for mechanical engineering majors at UL Lafayette to get experience working as a team and gaining skills that could help them in their careers. Stephen DeRouen, a mechanical engineering major at the university, was one of the founding members of the current team.
“We can compete with teams from all over the world,” DeRouen said. “It’s all about trying to get your foot in the door in the automotive industry. We have to design everything from scratch. At first, the school wasn’t too sure about us because they thought we would fade out.”
The team made huge strides last year when they competed nationally at Michigan International Speedway against some of the world’s top teams. They placed ninetieth out of 120 entries and were the only first-year team to get through the initial safety inspection to complete the event.
“In 2018, we proved them wrong,” DeRouen said. “We built the car for two years, the first year was just design, and the second year was all manufacturing. You have to build a new car every year, and you have to at least show a big enough improvement for the judges to let you through. We finished the race, which was huge for a first-year team.”
The team has to do more than just know how to drive and build the car in order to compete. They have to get their own sponsors to fund the car and have a website along with social media pages to attract the sponsors.
“The team is made up of all students, so it takes a lot,” DeReouen said. “We have a business portion, we have to raise all the money. It takes a lot of management skills, business skills and marketing. We try to get our word out to where we can attract sponsors. Most clubs aren’t well known on campus, but we’re trying to get the word out there.”
The team is made up of almost all mechanical engineering majors, who put in several hours of their time designing and building the car to get it out on the track.
“We think it’s a big opportunity for a lot of students,” DeRouen said. “It’s been proven, a lot of our students went on to get their dream jobs. It gives you a lot of experience and gets you out of your comfort zone. The diversity that we have on our team is really incredible. It’s people from all walks, and they’re all attracted to cars, which brings us all together.”
Alan Barhorst, Phd., the department head of Mechanical Engineering at UL Lafayette, is glad to see that the team is back running and doing well.
“I think they’re doing quite well,” Barhorst said. “They’ve been able to raise money to buy a trailer and be competitive. It’s a good program to have on campus because it gets students involved in design, and they get to see it from the ground up and work as a team and manage it. It’s just like a having a race car team.”
DeRouen sees himself making a career out of it in the mechanical engineering field like several other students have done. The team appears to have a bright future after making a lot of progress since they started back up.
“I think it’s growing,” DeRouen said. “A lot of the technology in your car comes from racing. A lot of your brake and safety standards come from racing, and I think people are starting to realize that. It’s easy to get a job now. We don’t have a single graduate that hasn’t gotten a job yet wherever they want.”