PULLMAN, Wash. – Squares of sandpaper in hand, Neri Ganzarski and four of her fellow teammates smooth away the edges of a teardrop-shaped body panel.

As part of the Wazzu Racing Team, Ganzarski and her teammates are preparing this year’s race car to compete against teams from across the country. It’s also an opportunity to bolster their resumes for life after college.

“I’m getting a lot of hands-on experience with the club, which is a different kind of learning than we get in the classroom where we’re talking about concepts,” said Ganzarski, a mechanical engineering major. “It’s nice to work on something that you can see develop right in front of you.”

Each year, Wazzu Racing competes in Formula SAE, a student design competition organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Teams of students are tasked with designing, building and testing small open-wheel style race cars.

The Pullman-based team is heading to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California this summer to compete alongside dozens of teams as part of Formula SAE California June 17-20.

Wazzu racing team members discuss the design of their car in the lab.
Wazzu Racing team members discuss the design of their car in the laboratory.

That same month, a team of students from WSU Everett will travel to Peoria, Illinois to compete in a Baja SAE competition. While Formula SAE has teams racing around a paved track, Baja SAE involves the building of a single-seat all-terrain vehicle that must stand up to punishing off-road challenges.

David Chandler, a mechanical engineering major and lead engineer for the Wazzu Racing Team, is pushing for a completed car by mid-March in hopes of addressing last year’s most significant pitfall – a lack of testing time.

“Everyone when they first join the club is very ambitious,” Chandler said following the team’s weekly meeting on a Saturday morning in late February.

Each meeting consists of members amassing on nearby couches surrounding a table when project leads talk about the status of their working group and what they hope to accomplish over the weekend. It ends with Chandler counting down from three, a team clap and the commencement of the day’s work.

“My jobs is to keep a reasonable scope and ensure the project is done on time,” he added.

A student uses a welding tool to bring together the frame for the Wazzu Racing Team’s car.
Engine Team Lead Tim Hansen uses a welding tool to bring together the frame for the Wazzu Racing Team’s car. The team is set to compete in this year’s Formula SAE competition June 17-20 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

The team isn’t just for engineering students. Competition at a high level requires the work of students studying myriad topics at WSU, including computer science, business and communications.

Evidence of bygone teams is scattered across the meeting room. Frames from past cars sit with reverence like trophies. A framed photo of the 2015 team is stacked atop a pile of warn rubber tires. Electrical components fill all available shelves and cupboards.

The team is supported by an array of WSU alumni and private companies, including Janicki Industries, Electroimpact Inc., and CK Worldwide. Many of the connections between sponsors and the team are established by former WSU students who received much sought after practical experience during their time with the Wazzu Racing Team.

Wazzu Racing also accepts donations through the WSU Foundation.

Team members spend their Saturday’s working on different aspects of the car. Mechanical engineering major Timathee Hansen spent his Saturday preparing a new welding tool for work on a crisscrossing array of metal pipes. Others sat in front of computers looking at models of different components.

Neri Ganzarski and three other members of the Wazzu Racing Team sand away at one of the body panels of this year’s race car.
Neri Ganzarski and three other members of the Wazzu Racing Team sand away at one of the body panels of this year’s race car.

Ganzarski worked on the ascetics of this year’s car. The body panel the size of a large suitcase she and her fellow members were sanding will feature red stripes as well as exposed carbon fiber in the middle when it is completed. After college, she plans to pursue a career in medical robotics.

Inside the nearby Engineering Teaching Research Laboratory, Gus Bronk, a mechanical engineering major and manufacturing lead, prepares a CNC lathe, used to shape an array of small metal components. A nearby 3D printer is used for an array of sensor mounts as well as for the heel cup of the brake pedal.

It’s a considerable time commitment to be a part of the team, Bronk said, but he’s optimistic about the benefits it’ll provide down the road.

“We’re hoping that employers will see this experience with the club as being more important than our GPAs,” he said.

Visit the team website for more information.