MIT Motorsports unveils their 2019 electric race car

In an event attended by more than 100 members of the MIT community — friends, family, faculty, staff, students, and sponsors — the MIT Motorsports team unveiled their 2019 electric race car in Lobby 13 in April. Introducing the evening, team captain and MIT junior Serena Grown-Haeberli thanked each student on the 50-member team for putting their heart and soul into this car. “This student hands-on project is really the 'mens et manus,' the hands-on portion, of our education,” she added, referring to MIT's motto of "mind and hand."

Jeremy Noel talks about the improvements made to this year’s model including converting the car to four-wheel drive. Photo: Madeleine Li

Cheers, hoots of appreciation, and applause could be heard when Grown-Haeberli peeled back the red tarp. No longer the MIT Pantone 201 red, the 551-pound vehicle is now black, bearing the names of sponsors who have generously helped the team get to where they are now.

Short talks by team members took place during the event. Mechanical lead, driver, and junior Jeremy Noel, a team member since 2017, outlined the newly converted-to four-wheel-drive vehicle. By adding two additional motors to drive the two front wheels in addition to a single rear motor driving both rear wheels “we can deliver more power to the ground and the car will be faster.” Noel said.

There’s been a redesign of the battery pack, switching from forced-air cooling with fans to water cooling by pumping water through the modules. The team has also developed control systems for the vehicle including power limiting, launch control, and torque vectoring. 

Acknowledging the quirks in the team’s past, senior Cheyenne Hua — former team captain and now mechanical sub-team — talked about what has changed and what has stayed the same since the team began in 2001, co-founded by mathematics major Nick Gidwani ’04 and mechanical engineering major Richard James ’04, SM ’06.

Left to right: Team captain Serena Grown-Haeberli; J. Kim Vandiver, mechanical engineering professor and Forbes director of the MIT Edgerton Center; and Kat Adams, business lead for the team. Photo: Madeleine Li

“Nick got a couple of buddies and was like, ‘OK, let's start this racecar team.’ He would actually drive to people's houses and knock down their doors, and be like, ‘Hey, it's shop day. Come to shop.’ He'd pick them up and carry them to the shop and get them to do [the] work,” related Hua.  

“And now we can't get [students] to leave shop.” Hua said. “I think these past couple of weeks, we've had at least five people in shop at any given time of day, including at 6 a.m.” 

What has stayed the same is the team’s predilection for collecting useful (and not so useful) tools. In 2010 the team found an enormous shearer­ — a cheap metal cutting machine — in Ohio. They rented a forklift for the weekend, drove to Ohio, picked up the shearer, came back to Cambridge and installed it. They kept the forklift for the rest of the weekend, installed some hooks in the ceiling and decorated hard-to reach places in the shop. Today team members Ethan Perrin, a junior and the battery subteam lead, and Noel take weekly trips to random Craigslist destinations to pick up various tools.

“Every time I walk in, it seems like there's a new tool in the shop, like 12-inch calipers,” remarked Hua. “How big are your calipers,” Hua asked Noel.

“Twenty inches, 20-inch calipers,” answered Noel.

For the students, the unveiling was an opportunity to show their family and friends the fruit of their labors, to explain why they come home covered in grease and metal chips, and why they practically live in the Edgerton Center’s Area 51 student shop in Building N51.

With almost weekly trips to the Palmer Motorsports Park for test driving, the team is looking forward to the SAE International’s Collegiate Design Series competition coming up in June.