ISU Mini Baja Team building racing vehicle from the ground up

Stanley Jensen drives the clubs Baha car on Nov. 11, 2009. Courtesy photo: Joe Bauer

Stanley Jensen drives the club’s Baha car on Nov. 11, 2009. Courtesy photo: Joe Bauer

Jeremiah Davis

For years, people have marveled at the technology and intelligence it takes to build a car. But for the ISU Mini Baja Team, building a car is a yearly task, and the April deadline to have the car finished is coming quickly.

The Baja Team is a completely student-run team part of an organization called Society of Automotive Engineers International. SAE provides students a platform to gain real-world experience building all types of vehicles while in school, said Shane Pearson, senior in mechanical engineering and the technical director for the Baja Team.

Baja is a form of racing which goes off-road and beyond conventional forms of racing. Cars have to negotiate all forms of terrain, including mud, logs, motocross-style jumps and even rock climbing, Pearson said.

To be able to handle it all, the car has to be built from the ground up.

“We build everything ourselves,” Pearson said. “We design the frame, the suspension setup. The only thing we don’t do is the engine.”

Under the rules for competition set forth by SAE, only one engine is allowed — a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine, similar to one found on a lawn mower.

“We can’t do anything to it,” Pearson said. “It gets sent to us, we take it out of the box and bolt it on. Absolutely no messing with any part of it.”

Because of the lack of adjustability with the engine, the team must get creative with the other parts of the car — mainly the suspension and transmission.

“We’ve got a new transmission this year [that] we designed ourselves,” Pearson said. “It’s electronic and will allow one tire to be powered at a time, or both together, which helps in cornering.”

Basically, with the push of a button on the steering wheel, the driver can supply power to a specific tire, depending on the direction of the corner they’re on.

The versatility of the transmission allows the team to have an advantage on all the different courses they compete on, which change at every event. The team has three major events a year, on the East and West Coasts, as well as the Midwest.

In order to be ready for the events, there is a lot of planning that has to happen.

“We have to plan out every part,” said Waylon Walker, junior in mechanical engineering and the project director for the Baja Team who surveys all the planning. “The budget is most important. If we can’t afford to build the car, we can’t compete.”

The limited budget makes the team resourceful.

“This year we saved a ton of money on shocks,” Walker said. “We got $40 shocks off an old VW Beetle and tuned them ourselves instead of buying the $700 pre-tuned ATV shock.”

Both Pearson and Walker also insisted that the team isn’t just for engineering majors.

“The team really is for anyone,” Pearson said. “If you want to put in the time, there’s something here anyone can do.”