Built for Baja. Engineering students play dirty.

SAE Baja competition balances design with fun.

When engineering students want a down and dirty race, they go to Baja SAE. The competition provides the opportunity to design and build a vehicle which must take some serious punishment. All teams start with the same engine, but from there, let the engineering begin.

The Baja SAE competition started in 1976 with 10 teams and 90 students. The competition was split into three, regional versions in 1978 which now host over 2500 students across nearly 250 teams from engineering schools in the US, Canada, Mexico and many other countries.A Baja vehicle, built by members of Pennsylvania College of Technology%E2%80%99s Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter, %E2%80%9Cgets air%E2%80%9D during an event at the Society of Automotive Engineers%E2%80%99 Baja SAE Carolina event in Greenville, S.C.

The competition includes components of design, cost, performance and reliability. For instance, at the SAE Baja – Kansas competition, which concluded at the end of last month, there were four days of challenges. Each challenge assesses different aspects of design such as acceleration, handling, braking and sled pulling. Although teams may win individual design or performance categories, to win the overall event, they must have a well-balanced engineering approach.

On the opening day vehicles are inspected for compliance to regulation, and students must complete a sales presentation to a fictitious manufacturer and/or customers. The following two days involve a barrage of dynamic testing to determine baseline metrics. The wide variety of tests allows teams to strategize for speed, torque or handling.

That sort of design flexibility is a theme of the competition. As SAE International states, “The object of the competition is to provide SAE student members with a challenging project that involves the design, planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market.”

The basic starting point for the build comes as a ten-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton. While engine modifications are not allowed, there is a great deal of freedom throughout the rest of the build. Because each team has equal power, it requires them to be clever in their design.

The marquee event is a 4 hr endurance event held on a 1.5 mi course that is intended to push the off-road vehicles to their limits. Each lap results in one point, so breaking down can cost big. Although a robust design is beneficial, it is the collective performance over the four days that determines the winner. This year, the SAE Baja – Kansas top three finishers overall were Brazil’s Centro Universitario Da FEI (1st), University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (2nd) and Iowa State University (3rd).

The video below condenses the event into just over a minute. It is produced by Pittsburgh State University, Kansas where one of the three SAE Baja events was held this year.


Image courtesy of Pennsylvania College of Technology