Innovative Colorado State University Motorsport Engineering Program Improving U.S. Racing Industry

At the base of the Rocky Mountains, nearly 2,000 miles from Daytona Beach and 1,000 miles from the Indianapolis 500, Colorado State University is home to an innovative Motorsport Engineering Program striving to improve the U.S. motorsports industry. Housed on a 10-acre site in the 24,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Performance Engineering Research Complex, the unique program is devoted to equipping engineers with graduate degrees focused specifically on motorsports as well as performing cutting-edge research and service that will advance the motorsport and general automotive industries.

The program offers engineers advanced academic degrees focused on motorsport engineering. At the master’s level, students specialize in studies related to either race vehicle design or in the detailed activities of a team engineer. At the doctoral level, students focus on advanced design and analysis. All students learn the foundations of vehicle dynamics, engines technology, aerodynamics, advanced materials and instrumentation – practice and technology that eventually make their way into the general automotive industry.

"The racing industry is growing faster than any other spectator sport in America, and the motorsport engineer is a critical part of any modern race team. Engineers educated specifically to take lead roles on professional race teams are a rare and welcomed commodity, and U.S.-trained motorsport engineers are even more uncommon," said Donald Radford, professor of mechanical engineering and coordinator of the program. "Colorado State is addressing this need by educating highly-trained engineering professionals to take on roles in vehicle design, vehicle setup and race preparation."

Currently, the top American motorsports teams are recruiting experienced engineering professionals from Europe, and there is a great demand for American-trained professionals. Colorado State is working aggressively to meet this need, evidenced by the motorsport engineering group’s journal publications, advanced research success and track record of graduates who currently are working in the motorsport industry. Four of those graduates will represent two of the Champ Car teams at the upcoming Denver Gran Prix Aug. 15.

Beyond offering advanced degrees, Colorado State’s Motorsport Engineering Program focuses on supporting the motorsport industry by:

– offering specialized engineering services to companies involved in motorsports and the general performance market,

– supplying cutting-edge research and development to the industry overall,

– offering continuing education to motorsport industry professionals through training and focused short courses, and

– creating a forum for members of the industry to discuss key needs in personnel and technology.

In its fourth year, the program’s research results already include advances in chassis design, tire testing, vehicle dynamics and nanofluids used to enhance coolant capabilities. Program faculty have additionally published results of new research on brake friction materials, tire compounds, frame design and engine technology.

"The Motorsport Engineering Program at Colorado State is one of only three U.S. engineering programs focused on the motorsports industry. Our research capabilities and successes are second to none," said Patrick Fitzhorn, professor of mechanical engineering and co-coordinator of the program. "But what really makes this program unique is the focused academic portion, which is more fully developed and ahead of any other university in the nation."

The complex is a self-contained site on Colorado State’s scenic Foothills Campus. The main research building is more than 14,000 square feet, housing the majority of the motorsport-related research infrastructure, a state-of-the-art design studio, a large manufacturing research and vehicle fabrication area, and the Composite Materials, Manufacture and Structures Laboratory. Other buildings at the complex offer separate dynamometer and structural testing laboratories. A new Conference and Education Center is opening later this summer in an adjacent 5,000 square foot building.

The motorsport engineering program offers a variety of advanced services to the motorsport and performance industries. Companies can contract with the center to use the capabilities available at the Performance Engineering Research Complex, including both experienced personnel and the latest in specialized test equipment. The program also is offering companies membership opportunities in a motorsport research consortium. The sum of member fees enables the motorsport engineering program to perform broad reaching research and development projects for the industry partners at a much lower cost than any one company could do on its own.

The program’s education and research are conducted using cutting-edge equipment, including a fully programmable shock (damper) dyno capable of frequencies approaching 150Hz, a brake friction dyno, a pair of eddy current engine dynos, data acquisition and a fully instrumented Super Sport 2000 test and development racecar, plus computational tools for structural analysis, computational fluid dynamics, vehicle dynamics and engine simulations.

The program also is developing professional seminars and short courses for motorsport professionals who can come to the Performance Engineering Research Complex and learn not only from Colorado State faculty but also from top speakers from throughout the world.

A sample of research projects in which the program’s faculty and graduate students are involved include the following.

– Shock Absorbers – High frequency, low amplitude shock absorber motion has been targeted as an area of great importance in the improvement of vehicle performance, and this project uses motorsport engineering’s new shock damper dynamometer to investigate the response of shock absorbers under these extreme conditions.

– Fuels/Combustion Studies – The effect of fuel additives on combustion are being studied and efforts relate to the understanding of the effect of additives on the ability to adjust the tuning parameters of modern, high-performance engines.

– Chassis Testing – Full-scale composite monocoque chassis studies experimentally measure the overall torsional stiffness as well as impact performance.

– Suspension Setup Optimization – The application of statistical experimental methods for rapid track-based suspension setup is in progress. This work investigates the application of multi-parameter approaches to lap time reduction.

– Aeroelasticity – Composites can be tailored to generate changes in shape due to a variety of loads, including aerodynamic forces, and this project investigates the ability to resist, or generate twist in wings from aerodynamic inputs.

For more information about the Motorsport Engineering Program, including a virtual tour of the Performance Engineering Research Complex and detailed information about the program’s academics, research and services, visit the Web at