Driven by design
Attracted to UTA by its unparalleled success in
SAE Formula car competitions, graduate student and Yugoslavia native
Dejan Matic has become the team's aerodynamics expert.
Normally, finishing eighth out of 129 in competition
with schools like Cornell, the Rochester Institute of Technology
or the University of Michigan would be cause for triumph. In statistical
parlance, that's about three deviations to the right of the bell-shaped
But graduate mechanical engineering student Dejan
Matic wasn't that ecstatic about UTA's lofty achievement in the
Society of Automotive Engineers Formula car competition last year
"We prefer to win," he said without
a trace of ego. "It's much more satisfying."
How true. And something of a tradition. UTA is
the most feared competitor in the prestigious annual event, rarely
falling out of the top three and often winning the coveted Best
Design Award, sometimes in consecutive years.
One of the University's past Formula winners went
on display at the Motorsports Museum and Hall of Fame in Novi, Mich.,
as an icon of student achievement. Giving up the car wasn't a problem
because an almost totally new car must be introduced every year.
Teams of 15-20 students, most of them engineering
majors, do the work. Competitors come from universities all over
Points are given for everything from endurance
and fuel economy to acceleration and cost. It's a competition that
involves far more than racing.
"You can't win by just throwing money at
it," says SAE Formula sponsor and mechanical engineering Professor
Bob Woods. "If you counted labor, it would probably cost $250,000
to build a prototype like this."
Dr. Woods believes UTA has prevailed over the
years because the students keep devising subtle advances like refinements
in fuel injection or exhaust technology.
And also, he says, because students like Matic
constantly bring nuances to the design.
"With our aerodynamic changes, we found increases
in cornering speeds of 30-35 percent, with more road grip and only
a slight sacrifice of high-end speed," Matic said.
For 2002, Matic is working on what amounts to
a totally aerodynamic car, with particular emphasis on the vehicle's
undertray (bottom). The native of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, specializes
"The undertray will organize air flow on
the car and develop a zone of negative pressure or vacuum under
the car," he says confidently.
Translation: The car will be pushed and pulled
downward, increasing stability and thus its ability to corner and
Matic, a mathematics graduate of the University
of Belgrade, first does the numbers and calculates behavioral dynamics.
"For the new car we'll also employ state-of-the-art
computer simulation and finally evaluate the design in a wind tunnel,"
he said, adding a prediction. "In 2002, we win this thing again."
Given UTA's track record, literally, no one would be surprised,
least of all Matic.
"Cars are really the love of my life, and
this SAE competition has given me an enormous amount of experience
in design," he said. "In fact, the Formula car was one
of the reasons I was so attracted here. With my experience working
on it and a UTA engineering degree, I hope that my next career stop
will be in automotive design."
There's certainly no drift in the high-speed turns
of Matic's career.