SAE Baja to incorporate new ideas amidst continuing progress


Cars built by the Formula and Baja Society of Automotive Engineers teams are displayed in the Advanced Machinery Systems Laboratory.

Mitchell Lafrance

The students who make up the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja club, plan to expand on existing knowledge and build an off-road baja racer that will compete with some of the best teams in the nation later next year.

Led by Andrew Raudabaugh, the technical director for Baja this year summarized the club as “applicable engineering.”

“What we’re doing here is taking our classwork and actually applying it to everyday situations,” Raudabaugh said. 

“I’d say it’s a group of students who design, build and then race an off-road mini baja car,” said Jordan Flick, the front suspension team lead for Baja. 

During the fall, the team will redesign their existing car with computer-aided design (CAD) software that will allow them to tweak last year’s car to better suit revisions and new ideas. After the initial design process is completed in the fall, the team will move to their shop in the Advanced Machinery Systems Laboratory (AMSL) to build and assemble their new car.

The car is built almost entirely by students, with only a select few parts that are completed by sponsors of the team.

“We design our frame, but we do ship it out to have it put together by a separate company,” said Maddie Rogers, the business team director for Baja. “We try to do as much as possible so that we can go over to Hoover and do it ourselves, depending on what it is.”

The design team is comprised of sub-teams that handle front-suspension, rear-suspension, frame, body and ergonomics, drivetrain, brakes and controls. There is also a graphic design team and a business team that helps organize the finances for the club.

The team utilizes Solidworks, a computer-aided design (CAD) software package that is popular for rendering 3D models of just about anything the user can imagine. This year, however, the team is reaching out to various clubs on campus to help teach new Baja members how to succeed in the club.

“We’ve kind of worked with about three clubs now. The Solidworks Club, the ITec Club and the materials engineering club,” Raudabaugh said.

The joint effort allows the members of Baja to learn skills from other student organizations so that they can pass the information on to future Baja team members and allow for progression each year.

“I think something that set us apart last year, that we’re trying to build on this year, was our effort to bring in a couple of graphic design students,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to capitalize on the outside majors that can get more focus and have more experience than we have. We got a lot of compliments last year on the design of our car.”

A large part of the SAE Baja program is the competitions that draw participants from around the world each year. For the 2018 competition season, Baja will be traveling to Maryland, Oregon and Kansas to showcase their skills and talents, while also helping other teams in the process.

“We get there and have tech inspection to make sure the car is up to snuff, we go through our design presentation, our sales presentation and then we start events,” Flick said, explaining the competition for Baja.

The event usually lasts about a week and is comprised of various dynamic events: acceleration, hill climb, suspension, maneuverability and a four-hour endurance race.

“We also do a lot of networking at these competitions,” Flick said. “The more people we can talk to, the more testing and validation we can do.”

The team members participate in various amounts at competitions.

“We might look over at another team and see that they have a lot of people, and we would think we want that, but then we notice that a lot of them are just standing around. We’re all doing something when we’re there,” Rogers said.

Raudabaugh told a story from one of last year’s competitions that showcased a unique aspect of SAE Baja.

“One thing that you’ll see at Baja competitions that you won’t see at any other SAE competition, is that teams are willing to go out of their way to help other teams,” Raudabaugh said. “There was a team from Dubai that didn’t meet the rules when they arrived at the competition, so we sent our team over there to help them out. They didn’t end up passing tech inspection, but we’re always willing to help other teams out.”

Flick said the environment for Baja is a fun one.

“You have all the experience you gain, it’s like real life and you get to apply those skills later when you get a full-time job. You put in the extra hours because you’re just having fun,” Flick said.