Burn Rubber, Not Gas
Surrounded on three sides by France and the fourth facing the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco remains one of the most beautiful places on earth. Yet every other year, the serenity of the city-state is broken with the rush of tens of thousands of motorsport enthusiasts. The cheering of the crowd, clamoring in the garage area, and of course the sound and smell of burning rubber energizes the crowd. Yet, of all the familiar sounds one distinct note appears missing: the treble tone of high-revving formula one engines. The roaring 1.6 liter, four-stroke turbocharged V6 engines are replaced by the futuristic melody of electric motors. Welcome to the Formula E Monaco ePrix, where the physics defying racecars don’t run on fossil fuel, but on electricity.
Sharing the serenity but minus the glamor of Monaco are the towns of Urbana and Champaign, Illinois in the Midwestern part of the United States. Students from Illini Formula Electric (IFE) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign are developing an all-electric racecar of their own in preparation for the annual Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) competition. Students from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, aerospace engineering, and many other fields study join IFE to fulfill their desire to design and build the hundreds of parts that make up the high-performance formula style racecar. A new car is produced each year to meet the competition’s strict guidelines, with the first semester focusing on design and the second on manufacturing.
Unlike the typical engines found in motorsports that use fossil fuel and internal combustion, IFE utilizes an electric motor to power the car around the track. With environmental concerns and the overall trend of automobile manufacturers looking into electric vehicles (EV), FSAE Electric came into existence only recently, having been founded in 2013. The competition includes two main categories, dynamic and static. Dynamic events include: acceleration, skid pad, autocross, and endurance; while static events include design review, business presentation, and cost report. However, no teams are allowed to compete in any dynamic events if the car fails to pass multiple safety examinations.
The electric sector of FSAE has much stricter safety regulations regarding electrical inspections than their gasoline counterpart due to the involvement of high voltages and the possibility of deadly shock to any personnel who come in contact with the vehicle or even in the event of a fire. All cars entering the FSAE electric competition must go through a very detailed electrical inspection where judges examine every detail of the electrical systems for safety compliances. One of the most rigorous tests of all, the rain test, puts the car under a sprinkler system for two minutes, then has the car sit for another two minutes to see if all electrical components stay intact and operational. An insulation monitoring device (IMD) test is also performed to see if any faults appear, which would indicate a short in the system. With the need for high-quality electrical cables that could meet the demand for performance and safety, IFE reached out to HELUKABEL USA for sponsorship.
HELUKABEL USA generously supplied the team with over 4,600 ft. (1,400 m) of various cable types ranging from flexible, small gauge hook-up wire used in the main wiring harness to high-current cables used on the main accumulator (battery pack). For wiring solutions in the low-voltage system, IFE chose HELUKABEL’s FIVENORM single conductor wire. This 600 V, 105°C-rated cable is perfect for the main harness application due to its lightweight design and durability. With this wire, the team’s first car to weigh less than 500 lbs. was achieved, and the dreaded rain test was passed in record time. Even after all dynamic events and several weeks of rigorous post-competition testing, the HELUKEBAL wired harness still maintained perfect functionality and showed no signs of physical wear and tear. For the 400 V high-voltage system, IFE used HELUKABEL’s Single 602-RC-CY-J. Its tough outer jacket, tinned copper shielding and insulation have now withstood over two years of driving since being installed on both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 competition cars, even as virtually all other components have needed to be replaced or repaired.
With the help of sponsors such as HELUKABEL USA, IFE has been able to improve each year. In the 2019 competition held in Lincoln, Nebraska, IFE placed 10th overall out of an international field of 30 registered teams. Additionally, they earned top-10 finishes in five out of eight categories, which marked the team’s best result since its founding. However, IFE has even bigger goals in mind and will continue to advance in design and manufacturing quality as they return to competition in 2020.