Bruin Racing Formula SAE Kicks Off NASCAR Season at the Coliseum
Bruin Racing Formula
The Bruin Racing Formula SAE team on the track transformed for the NASCAR Cup Series at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
UCLA Samueli Newsroom
On a beautiful sunny Southern California weekend, the crowd cheered on as the UCLA student-built car zipped around the temporary, quarter-mile race track built for the NASCAR Cup Series at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The national stock car racing association invited USC Racing and UCLA’s Bruin Racing Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) teams to race against each other Feb. 4 in a time-trial competition featuring cars built entirely by students. The event was part of NASCAR’s 2023 season-opening Busch Light Clash that took place the following day at the USC-adjacent stadium.
The six-member Bruin Racing Formula SAE in-field team featured drivers Donnie Clarke and Joey Oetzell, as well as pit crew members Jonathan Huang, Ben Sigal, Ronin Bhandare and Michael Leggesse. Fifty other club members and their guests attended the event to show their support.
For the crosstown rivalry matchup, both clubs ran their race cars separately in two heats of 10 laps each around the oval track. In the first heat, the Bruin Racing team outraced the Trojans in all 10 laps with the average time of 15.8 seconds vs. USC’s 17.5. The UCLA team also achieved a top speed of approximately 65 mph — allowing its car to run only about two seconds behind the NASCAR vehicles that raced the next day.
“Overall it was a positive experience both for the team and personally being able to drive around the track,” said Clarke, a second-year aerospace engineering major. “The best part was proving that we are by far the quicker team.”
Unfortunately, the exhaust muffler of the Bruin’s vehicle was damaged during practice, which ultimately dashed the team’s hopes to compete in the second heat despite a quick fix to perform well in the first 10 laps.
“Overall it was a positive experience both for the team and personally being able to drive around the track,” said Donnie Clarke.
“Bruin Racing’s performance demonstrated the significant amount of time and effort the team had put into the preparation, as well as the tremendous skill of its drivers and infield team,” said Tori Burke, senior manager for strategy and innovation at NASCAR. “I was particularly impressed with the team’s composure and speed in troubleshooting the issues with the muffler right there in the infield under tight time constraints and high pressure.”
Although UCLA was unable to finish the race, resulting in a de facto loss, the experience of being that close to a NASCAR track and event was incredible, according to Huang, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major and the team’s technical director.
“The experience was definitely once-in-a-lifetime,” he said. “I’m grateful this is a new issue that we discovered. The team has already been debriefed and are well on track to mitigating and eliminating the problem on our next car.”
Formula is one of three teams housed under Bruin Racing, an SAE organization at UCLA, in which students with different majors and levels of experience work together to design, build and race cars in various competitions across the country. Along with Formula, the Baja team makes off-road racers while the Supermileage builds cars – both internal combustion and electric – to maximize energy efficiency.
The Bruin Racing Formula SAE team’s biggest highlight of the year usually takes place in May at a national competition in Michigan, when the crew competes against teams from more than 100 schools across the country. College formula teams are challenged to build a car from scratch that can compete with the likes of Porsches and other high-end sports cars.
Despite not winning the faceoff at the Coliseum, the club members emerged from the race excited about what lies ahead this year.
“Bruin Racing’s performance demonstrated the significant amount of time and effort the team had put into the preparation, as well as the tremendous skill of its drivers and infield team,” said Tori Burke.
“It was a great experience, even though the day didn’t go exactly how we wanted,” said managing director Noah Truong, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student. “The best part for me was being able to see some of our new members’ reactions to the car running at a race since they have not yet had a chance to see the car compete in Michigan at our actual competition.”
Prior to the friendly contest, the Bruin and Trojan teams shared how they were preparing for the event in an interview on “Sports Central,” a CBS Los Angeles sports news television program.
“The experience was surreal. Being invited to have our team race with a huge organization like NASCAR is a dream 5-year-old me would be proud of,” said Leggesse, a sociology major and the team’s media chair. “I’m still grateful for being able to have my feet walk on the same tarmac as NASCAR champions.”
In addition to competing against each other, the two teams got to network with some of the professional drivers and take in the festivities of the NASCAR clash weekend. The UCLA squad is now focused on preparing its car for the Michigan competition in May and looking forward to improving its fifth placement finish in the 2022 race.
Amy Ionescu contributed to this story.