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DC grad builds race car with Formula SAE team
May 16, 2016

By Heather Reinhart

DASSEL, COKATO, DARWIN, MN – Aaron Juntunen, a 2015 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate who is studying to become a mechanical engineer, knows firsthand that building a fast car can be a time-consuming process.

He and 24 of his University of Minnesota-Duluth classmates spent the entire school year building a race car from the ground up to participate in the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) national collegiate competition, which took place a few days ago in Michigan.

Juntunen, the son of Tim and Lynn Juntunen of Darwin, focused on building and fine-tuning the engine of the race car, which measures roughly 6-feet-long by 3-feet-wide and looks like a big go-kart. He said the competition has a lot of engine restrictions, so he had to build a whole computer system to regulate the engine intakes and exhaust.

During the busy times, Juntunen spent close to 60 hours a week on the race car, including weekends when he was up until 3 a.m. working on the engine at the automotive shop on campus.

The Formula SAE team from UMD created the design for the car and built it from scratch using money from sponsors. Frame construction began the end of last summer, and the car was finally completed just last week.

“We pretty much do it all ourselves,” Juntunen said, adding that the students are responsible for all the research and calculations. A faculty advisor keeps track of the finances and offers advice as needed.

Formula SAE encompasses all aspects of the automotive industry including research, design, manufacturing, testing, developing, marketing, management and finances. The program allows students to apply textbook theories to real work experiences.

Juntunen said some of the schools in the competition spend more than $1 million on their race cars, but all funding comes from sponsors.

“None of it comes out of our pockets,” he said.

Testing time in Cokato
May 6, the team loaded its completed race car onto a trailer and brought it to Stockholm Karting Center in Cokato for testing.

Unfortunately, some of the steering components broke, so they headed to a friend’s shop in Minneapolis to fix it before continuing to test the car.

The team was well prepared for the Formula SAE Michigan competition, which took place at Michigan International Speedway. Their race car was one of 125 being judged on speed, handling, and endurance based on their performance in a variety of different courses. The car’s top speed is 100 mph.

UMD hasn’t had a competing team in the past two years so the event in Michigan was the first for the bulk of members. Juntunen said he is really glad that he joined the team because he’s learned so much more than he would in a classroom.

“My favorite part has just been learning everything about a car,” he said. “Designing our own car and seeing it come along – seeing what works and what doesn’t – and watching it all come together has been really cool.”

Sadly, Juntunen won’t be able to see if his efforts pay off in person because he is transferring to Montana State University and is in the process of moving. Next school year, Juntunen will be a member of the Formula SAE team there.

“They have a really great program in Montana, and I really like it there,” he said.

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