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‘Business as usual’ in Top 10 finish

USF’s Formula SAE Racing Team gathered at the award ceremony last Saturday at the end of its only competition of the season in Lincoln, Neb. 

The ceremony was what one would expect; most of the 80 participating teams were gathered around tables under a large tent.

Simon Restrepo, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and the president of the USF team, said the team enjoyed the ceremonies. They enjoyed seeing who placed in what categories, watching competition highlights. They already knew they finished in the top three in the category for business presentations.

But no one on the team knew what was going to happen next.

As the team spoke among themselves, they overheard what became the highlight of the season. 

The announcer stepped on stage and called team USF to accept its trophy for their 10th place finish, defending their spot in the Top 10 last year in Nebraska.

“We were speechless,” Restrepo said. “Everyone was like ‘Um, what? Did they just say USF? Who’s going up there?'”

Eventually they figured it out and two graduating members went on stage to accept their award, but while a Top 10 finish may sound like USF breezed through the competition, it was far from it.

The journey to the top began Monday at 10 p.m., when the team packed up the trailer and left for Lincoln three hours behind
schedule. They had to cover 1,600 miles in two days. Alternating
drivers, the team was on edge the whole way.

It was the first and last competition of the season, Restrepo’s last ever since he graduates in August, and each team member was glued to their notes and laptops,
studying, reviewing and preparing. 

Not a very stressful first day for the team, Restrepo said. 

In fact, when he drove into Lincoln, the last leg of the road trip, he said, was “business as usual”.

“It’s funny how your brain works,” Restrepo said. “You remember a lot of stuff. I haven’t been there in a year, but I didn’t even need a GPS when I got there.”

Thursday was when the action kicked off for the team. They began the static events, consisting of a cost, design and business presentation.

After a 7th place finish in design and 12th place in cost, it was up to Jackie LeBrun, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, to give the same business presentation she presented to the team at the car’s unveiling on campus weeks earlier.

LeBrun took the “business as usual” attitude.

“I was comfortable,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous. It was just like going into work like I’ve done this before.”

Typically at the end of the business presentation, judges grant five minutes for a Q-and-A session. But the judges were speechless and hardly asked a thing, after USF’s presentation, Lebrun said.

“I finished the presentation and said ‘Ok you can ask any questions’,” LeBrun said. “They kind of just sat there and smiled at me at first.”

The team finished second in the business presentation category, a first for USF. 

While that was taking place, the rest of the team prepared for Friday’s dynamic events which include skid pad, acceleration and auto cross, which is where some trouble began for the No. 9 car.

It was apparent in the results that the team wasn’t in Tampa anymore, finishing 18th, 39th and 25th respectively.

“The performance we had in the dynamic event was
disappointing,” Restrepo said. “The new car we have this year is massively fast compared to our previous car and it had the performance, but the results didn’t show it, being on a different surface.”

Restrepo described Lincoln’s track as “grippy” and nothing like what they practiced on in Tampa.  

Finally Saturday arrived, the day for the fuel economy portion and the endurance portion – two drivers, 20 laps.

About four laps into the second driver, the USF car ran into trouble. 

The car got stuck in second gear. The endurance event combined with fuel economy makes up for 40 percent of the competition.

The driver managed to bring the car home, finishing 10th. That with 15th place fuel economy allowed USF to snag at least 30 percent of those points.

Behind them in 12th place was the University of New Mexico, who after a practice run beforehand broke a major part in their suspension. Team USF, who was next to them before endurance, did what any competitor there would do, Restrepo said. They made sure all of the tools in the USF racing trailer were at New Mexico’s disposal to fix their part.

“That’s part of why I love competition and why the team loves it,” Restrepo said. “It’s that camaraderie. That’s our competiton. We could have not helped them, but the way we look at it is that could have been us and we would want someone to help.”

LeBrun said she shares that love, and after the events that took place this year, a Top 10 finish was a great payoff.

“It means a lot to the team,” LeBrun said. “We had a lot of hurdles this year, so placing Top 10 was something we really didn’t see coming. Overall it was just an awesome experience, I just love competition season.”

The team that was on cloud nine after being called on stage for their performance in the Top 10 later that day, and after the ceremony the team that put in more than 30 hours per week finally got to let loose.

 “We definitely celebrated pretty well that night,” Restrepo said. “I’ll leave it at that.”