If you’re a racing fan who has always thought that, given the opportunity, you could match your technical skills wheel-to-wheel with some of the best engineers in the sport, you’ve got one last chance to make your dream come true.

Mega-distributor Mouser Electronics has been conducting a unique competition this year called the Mouser 500 Engineering Challenge. What they did was take three very real technical problems faced by the IndyCar racing team they sponsor – the KV Racing Technology #11 driven by Tony Kanaan – and asked engineers just like you to help solve them. A panel of experts reviews the proposed ideas and selects what they think are the ten best solutions, which they give to the racing team – the ultimate experts – to decide the winner. Each of the ten finalists receives an official 2012 Mouser Racing tee-shirt, not to mention bragging rights they can use to impress all their gearhead friends. But the ultimate bragging rights – and a shiny new iPad3 HD 32GB Wi-Fi – goes to each of the three winners, who are also entered into a special drawing to win a racing helmet personally autographed by Tony Kanaan.

The first challenge, which ran from May 1 to June 15, involved coming up with a way to fully automate the various cycles of the racing team’s shock absorber (a.k.a. damper) vacuum machine.

The second challenge, which ran from June 16 to July 31, asked contestants to come up with a better way to accurately determine the fuel level in the team’s pit road refueling tank.

The final challenge, which runs through September 15, asks contestants to design a set of insulation pads that can heat or cool the car’s shock absorbers in order to maintain their optimum operating temperature of 80°C ± 5°C. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well you can take it from me – nothing in IndyCar racing is as simple as it seems. When driven at the limits of adhesion, an IndyCar’s shock absorbers take a real pounding, dissipating energy in the form of heat. Adding to the problem is the fact that the rear shock absorbers are mounted in close proximity to the engine and exhaust system, exposing them to even higher temperatures.

So, do you think you can design a set of insulation pads that could be wrapped around the bodies of the shock absorbers and either cool or heat them to maintain a constant temperature of 80°C ± 5°C, all from a single control unit? If so, go to the Mouser 500 Engineering Challenge Web site and show the folks at Mouser and the KV Racing Technology team what you can do. Just imagine what it would be like watching Tony Kanaan take the checkered flag knowing that your engineering expertise helped get him there.