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.

Dejan Matic

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 curve.

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 in Detroit.

"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 the world.

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 in aerodynamics.

"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 handle.

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.


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