The beast was born when he was just 16-years-old.
The day after Greg Lister got his license, his mother had a surprise in store for him.
“The first time it snowed when I had my license, my mom took me out to the back of a parking lot and told me I had to learn how to drift,” recalls Lister with a big smile. “Whose mom does that?”
Riding his first motorcycle at 12-years-old, Lister is no stranger to speed. Coming from a family of pilots, go-kart and motorcycle racers, the Ryerson engineering student has always had a need for speed. Lister says his grandfather has even built his own racecar — something that Lister is attempting to do now as the captain of Ryerson’s formula racecar team.
In the Kerr Hall East basement, Lister sits in the office of the Formula SAE team after a meeting with a new team sponsor. The office is ripe with heat – the office is beside a boiler room – but Lister is used to it after countless hours of working in the shop. The team has been working since last summer preparing for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International competition in May. After nearly a year of work, the pressure is at an all time high as competition approaches. “It’s a very stressful time for me. I’ve been very on edge because a whole year comes down to that moment,” says Lister. “A whole year of your life comes down to three days.”
The competition, organized by SAE International, dates back to 1981 and takes place every May in Michigan. University students from around the world are responsible for developing a small formula-style racecar to compete in four different events: acceleration, skid pad, autocross and endurance. Additionally, team members must present their racecar to the panel of judges. In 2005, the team set a personal record placing tenth in the world, a ranking they hope to achieve – and beat – again. Jose Del Castillo, the suspension system leader, says that they are more optimistic than last year.
“Last year we tried to organize ourselves but we were starting from nothing,” says Castillo, who has been on the team since his first year at Ryerson. “The team was basically all fourth years and once they left a lot of us were new. I took on my role as system leader knowing very little, there was no coaching. So last year was rough.”
After not making it to competition last year, Castillo says the team is determined to finish this year. After working for more than seven hours on his feet in the shop that day, Castillo still wants to do more. “The team is getting better and better and I’m sure next year the method will get improved,” says Castillo. “Whatever didn’t work this year, we’ll try to fix it next year.” Inspired by a video from Claude Rouelle, the president of OptimumG and a design judge for the Formula SAE series, Castillo echoes Rouelle’s advice: “Work on the team first. You have to work on the people and then you make a car. Have an A team and a B car and then next year you’ll have an A team and an A car,” says Castillo. In the video, Rouelle says that the real key to success in competition is designing a good team more than designing a good car.
If that’s the case, the team is on the right track — they won the student group of the year award this March at this year’s Night of Excellence hosted by the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS) and Ryerson Executives, Associates and Leaders (REAL). After not going to competition last year, this year the team started with a clean slate. “Last year we didn’t make it to competition, we didn’t make a car and we barely had a team — so this is brand new management,” says Sabrina Gomez, the team’s manager. “So many people have put so much effort and years towards this team, we couldn’t just let it go and just close the chapter.”
While most students spent their winter break on holidays, Gomez was hard at work going into the shop every day. “This team requires a lot of your time and commitment,” says Gomez. “I have to do well in school because I need the grades, but I also enjoy doing this and this is something I am passionate about.”
Walking by the shop at any given time, you will see team members hard at work. Gomez says she averaging 20 hours a week minimum in the shop, the equivalent of a part-time job. “It’s not like school where you go to a professor and you fail,” says Philip Feldman, the team’s electrical system leader. “If you don’t get this right you could blow up the engine or something. It’s definitely difficult, but it gives you life experience in terms of how to be resourceful and how to work independently.”
The shop itself, located towards the very back of the Kerr Hall East basement is like a top-secret lair housing its own special kind of Batmobile. The team’s navy jumpsuits hang together on a rack with their ram logo emblazoned on the backs, but won’t be there for long. Just as the team has restructured internally, they will be renovating the shop this summer and getting a facelift on their brand thanks to a new partnership with the Ryerson School of Fashion. What has led to their success? Lister says these three things: “Hard work. Dedication. Loyalty.”
The burns blistered on Lister’s arms from working on the car are just one sign of the dedication to this team. In the team’s office, awards, newspaper clippings and pictures of the teams from previous years plaster the brick walls. For Lister, winning isn’t the goal; finishing and improving for the future is what matters.
“It’s making a car that works, then next year you take what works and improve it,” says Lister. “Year by year, you build a legacy.”