Making it four in a row, Monash University took the honours at the 2012 Formula SAE-A competition held in Melbourne last December. Losing only 100.6 points across the seven competition events, Monash achieved 899.4 points with second place Edith Cowan University gaining 773 points and third place University of Wollongong earning 698.4.

Organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers - Australasia (SAE-A), the international engineering education competition was run during the 2012 academic year with students designing and manufacturing a specialist auto cross race car in their university workshop.

The car is built to a specific set of formula regulations with a $50,000 budget limit. After testing their cars at home, the teams then met from 6 to 10 December, 2012 at the Victoria University Werribee campus training track near Melbourne where the competition scoring events were held.

The highly regarded Australasian competition attracts teams from across the region and there were dual entries from Japan and New Zealand. There were two electric vehicle entries (RMIT and Swinburne universities), four racers used E85 fuel, and the balance of the 21 entries used 98 Pulp fuel.

Producing practical professionals

The Australasian Formula SAE-A event has been a feature of the regional engineering education calendar for 12 years. It is part of a prestigious international series of Formula SAE competitions held throughout Asia, Europe and the USA.

The Formula SAE-A program is renowned for producing top engineering "graduates" because the competition engages students in a real life engineering education experience involving every aspect of project management.

The fact that the project is based around an exciting race car assignment is the "bait" to engage students in the program. Students manage the project themselves and have only a faculty advisor to assist with occupational health and safety, research sources and academic issues.

Demand for Formula SAE-A "graduates" is not limited to the automotive industry, where they are employed by vehicle and component manufacturers, V8 Supercar and even Formula 1 teams. They are also sought for their engineering skills by the aerospace, electronics, intelligent transport systems, mining and rail industries.

Back on the podium after a long absence was former Formula SAE-A power house Wollongong University. The team took third place in the 2012 competition.Winged wonders win

Following Monash tradition, the winning car used wings at front and rear, which are developed in the university's research wind tunnel. Also sprouting wings in 2012 to take second place was the Edith Cowan University car. They made an impressive sight on the race track together during the Endurance event. Although they add weight, these aerodynamic devices can improve traction and enable higher speed in corners.

However, in their pursuit of improved aerodynamic performance, the former Formula SAE-A powerhouse University of Western Australia designed and entered a car for the 2012 competition that featured a carbon composite under tray attached to the underside of the suspension. Following discussion with the judges about the legality of the design, the University of Western Australia withdrew from the 2012 competition.

Making a much smaller footprint on track, the 2012 University of Wollongong car returned this once powerful team to the elite echelon. This university produced the first Australian team to compete internationally in Formula and in May 2003 the University of Wollongong became the first overseas team to win the Formula SAE competition in Detroit, USA.

Since then, RMIT has won Formula Student in the UK, the USA competition in Detroit and the FISITA Championship in the UK. The University of Western Australia also has won the Formula SAE-A competition in Detroit.

At the close of the 2012 Formula SAE-A competition the 500-plus competitors take in the technical debrief from international race car design and software guru Claude Rouelle.The prominence of Australian teams in international Formula SAE competition is highlighted in the current standings with four universities in the top world 50 - Monash University second, Swinburne University seventeenth, Edith Cowan University twenty fifth and Wollongong University forty seventh.

Good performance across all seven events is critical to winning a Formula SAE-A competition. The competition includes static events involving presentation by students and inspections by judges, such as Cost Report, Presentation Skill and Engineering Design. On the action front, events include Acceleration Test, Skid Pad, Autocross and the combined Endurance / Economy track test.

Monash University won the Engineering Design, Autocross, Skid Pad and Combined Endurance / Economy events. Edith Cowan took out the Acceleration and Endurance events. Swinburne University won the electric vehicle category.

Given the prestige of the Formula SAE-A competition in the world of engineering, top students are attracted to those universities that support the program. Most all engineering faculties at Australian universities do support teams. Another driver for the popularity of the competition is the demand for its "graduates".

They have a year or two of practical project management skill and experience that greatly enhances their performance once on the job - be it designing race car components or engineering equipment for the mining industry.