Grizzlies Racing faces 2020 challenges, gears up for 2021

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Photo Courtesy of Grizzlies Racing

2020 was rough for the Formula SAE team, but with a light at the end of the tunnel, they’re ready to get back to work.

Dean Vaglia, Staff Reporter

By summer’s end in 2019, Grizzlies Racing had a solid road ahead of them. 

The Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) team had good showings at events in Germany and Canada and was on track to its first top-10 finish since 2013, had the German gasoline not caused the muffler to blow up.

Even with the fuel-based setback, the Germany showing carried the team through the rest of the season, into adapting a car to test a new engine and starting a new car for 2020. By all accounts, the 2020 FSAE season was shaping up to be an exciting challenge.

Then, 2020 happened. Exciting and challenging indeed.

Losing access to the Engineering Center’s garage, Grizzlies Racing had to leave behind a nearly-finished 2020 car as the world went into lockdown.

“We knew we were going to get kicked out before we were officially kicked out, so we were able to grab some things and work on them from home,” David Ingermann, head of business and marketing said. “But by and large, anything that had to be done with your hands or in person — we have not been able to do for eight months now.”

Despite work on the 2020 and test cars stopping, the team found ways to help fight COVID-19. They used 3D printers to make face shields and mask holders for medical workers and donated computing power to help researchers run simulations critical to stopping the virus.

But FSAE is more than just building a car and running it through tests and competitions. There are business and design aspects to the competition — allowing non-mechanics to take part in the FSAE spectacle — and a remote event was held over the summer to judge those aspects of the competition.

2020 has been a challenging time for the team. According to Grizzlies Racing President Hanna Rau, it has been hard finding the motivation to work on cars when Zoom is the only place meetings can be held. 

“In person was a lot nicer,” Rau said. “We were able to see each other. We would have our meetings and people would be able to absorb the motivation of others. It is really hard to do that over a Zoom call or Google Meet.”

Along with motivational challenges, there have been issues recruiting new members and retaining existing ones.

“Getting new members — especially during the pandemic — has been super hard,” Rau said. “In a normal year we are able to go to events such as GrizzFest. We will have our car and people will get to see what we actually do as opposed to just hearing about it.”

Even with the pandemic still around, a year of preventive efforts and vaccine development have shown a way out. And for Grizzlies Racing, this means preparing for a new season of competitions. The 2021 season begins on May 5 with the Michigan event, where dynamic events will be held at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn as part of a hybrid competition format.

More information about Grizzlies Racing and FSAE at Oakland University can be found at www.grizzlies-racing.com.