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Midd Kids build hybrid racing car

MEMBERS OF THE Middlebury College Formula Hybrid team pause to commemorate their work in progress earlier this year. The team is building a hybrid racing car to compete in a series of events in New Hampshire this coming May. To help Middlebury get started, the Dartmouth College team sold them an old chassis. Photo courtesy of Francesca Whitecross

MIDDLEBURY — Rivalries and competitions are common among colleges and universities, most often through sports, but also through other avenues that are as much collaborative as competitive, like encouraging voter turnout among students.

Last winter a new Middlebury College student organization formed to undertake a friendly challenge among engineering-minded college students all over the country.

It’s a first for the school, and slightly off the beaten path for a small New England liberal arts college: The students are building a hybrid formula racecar, and they’re planning to race it at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Louden, N.H., this May.

Middlebury College Formula Hybrid was founded a year ago by then-junior Louis Parizeau, a computer science major who during the pandemic developed an interest in go-kart racing.

“I’ve always been into mechanical stuff, working with my hands, working on mopeds, dirt bikes in my garage,” Parizeau told the Independent. “Sometime cars, but I’m not very good at it,” he added with a laugh.

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE JUNIOR Francesca Whitecross tests the fit of a hybrid racecar chassis delivered from Dartmouth College earlier this year. Whitecross is part of Middlebury’s brand-new Hybrid Formula team, which is building a racecar for collegiate competition this May. To help them get started, the Dartmouth team, which founded the competition, sold them an old chassis.
Photo courtesy of Francsca Whitecross

Earlier in his college career Parizeau had considered pursuing a dual-degree mechanical engineering program, which would combine three years at Middlebury with two years at a university like Dartmouth, Columbia or Rensselaer, and earn him two degrees.

Ultimately he decided against it, but along the way he discovered Formula Hybrid — and wanted to get involved.

Founded in 2006 at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, Formula Hybrid is part of the Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series. Student teams design and build a formula-style hybrid (electric and combustion engine) or electric-only racecar and compete in a series of annual events at the New Hampshire speedway.

Events include acceleration (a drag race), autocross (a short race to test maneuverability), endurance (a 44-km race with speeds topping 100 mph), and categories for design and project management.

“Most teams come from universities that have engineering departments, but Middlebury doesn’t, and I thought that might be a problem,” Parizeau said.

So he reached out to Dartmouth and the University of Vermont, which won the 2020 virtual competition, to see if he could join either of their teams.

But a friend and Midd alum now at Dartmouth told him he should “take a stab at” forming his own team.

“So I took a stab at it,” he said.

TEAM EFFORT

Though Parizeau has done much of the original organizing to get the team going — and he’s spent the current winter term working on it for a credited internship — he emphasized that Middlebury College Formula Hybrid is a team effort.

Working out of a welding shop in Bicentennial Hall, a temporary arrangement, seven student teams have focused on key aspects of the car — powertrain, electrical, tires and brakes, chassis and suspension, aero, steering system and the combustion engine — and there is a core team of 12 students making regular contributions to the project, Parizeau said.

The Middlebury team was able to purchase a used chassis from the Dartmouth team to help it get going, and eight Midd students took a four-week welding class at the Hannaford Career Center this winter.

“None of us has a ton of experience,” said junior-Feb. Francesca Whitecross, who  handles outreach for the team, “but we’re working together through Louis, who is very meticulous and has a good eye for detail.”

EIGHT MEMBERS OF the Middlebury College Formula Hybrid team took a four-week welding course at the Hannaford Career Center this winter and plans to use their new skills to complete construction of a racecar.
Photo courtesy of Francesca Whitecross

Parizeau has created a spreadsheet to guide and track the project, she said.

“Everything is really organized with set deadlines and details like ‘this is what’s going to happen,’ ‘this is what the cost is,’ ‘these are the parts we have to order,’ ‘these are the skills required,’ and ‘here are some YouTube videos on how to do it if you don’t know how to do it.’”

As with anything this complicated, undertaken for the first time, there have been challenges.

“At one point we had these strange nuts and bolts we couldn’t figure out the measurements of,” Whitecross said.

They had been included with the parts the team had purchased from Dartmouth, and the blueprints were confusing. Some of the instructions were written in Italian.

“So we had to look up some Italian mechanic’s handy-book,” Whitecross said. “I speak Italian so I was able to translate that, thank goodness. But when you don’t have an established program with like 16 mentors, it’s a lot of googling ‘How does this work?’ or ‘What does this mean?’”

The hardest part for Parizeau has been the meticulous organizing, he said. But he loves doing the other work.

“I’m learning a lot about electrical wiring, though not up to the level of electrical engineering, and about sensors and local networks,” he said.

Whitecross, who’s majoring in neuroscience and Russian, doesn’t expect to become an engineer, but she’s always loved being around cars and she grew up steeped in auto racing culture.

On the French side of her family, her grandfather was a car racer. On the Italian side of her family, her great-uncles and great-grandparents were car racers and car collectors, and the family home in Italy is filled with car trophies and “car magazines and catalogs stacked floor-to-ceiling.”

So spending time on this project and around the people who are really passionate about it just felt like a natural extension of her own interests, she said.

STEP BY STEP

In the next week or so the Middlebury Hybrid Formula team is looking to reach a big milestone: getting the chassis rolling.

They had hoped to be done with that part by now but they’re still waiting for some parts to arrive — an all-too-common situation given the ongoing manufacturing and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

In addition to actually building the car, the team has also been raising money for the project, to pay for tools, car parts, safety equipment for student racers and transportation to and from the New Hampshire competition.

A trio of Middlebury College Formula Hybrid team members make adjustments and plan the next steps for the design and construction of the racecar they’re building. The team, which was formed in 2021, hopes to enter its first- collegiate racecar competition in the spring.
Photo courtesy of Francesca Whitecross

As of Wednesday morning, their Just Giving campaign had raised $13,210 of its $15,000 goal. For more information about the campaign visit tinyurl.com/middrace22.

Meanwhile, the project has started to gain some attention on campus.

“We have a waitlist of about 130 people to race the car,” Parizeau said.

The students are also looking for a permanent home for their hybrid formula team, which Parizeau hopes will persist after he graduates in May.

“Since there’s no engineering department there’s no big space to do engineering projects,” Parizeau said. “But the administration has been working pretty hard to find us a good spot.”

Parizeau is not sure yet what he’ll do after graduation, he said, and it’s unlikely he’ll pursue any additional schooling related to racecars.

“But I might spend some of my own time on it, do my own projects, and work on them out in the garage.”

For more information about Middlebury College Formula Hybrid, visit middleburyformulahybrid.com.

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