Baja Club engineers simplicity for custom cars

Sept. 16, 2013

Nick Beadleston
nbeadles@uccs.edu

Students interested in testing their engineering savvy while satisfying their competitive streak may find the perfect weld by joining the UCCS Society of Automotive Engineers Baja Club.

The club allows students to participate in national contests while applying design and problem-solving skills.

The team is led by President Zach Luetzen and Vice President Sean Belknap, who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

The UCCS club is one of several hundred Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja teams across the nation.

The SAE has deep roots in automotive culture. One of its early members, Elmer Sperry, coined the term “automotive.”

While the club, which shares its workshop with the Osborne wind tunnel, has six members, they are optimistic after the campus club fair that they will pick up additional members.

Belknap said about the benefits of membership in the club, “It looks good on a resume; it gives you real-world experience.”

The club relies heavily on funding and equipment from sponsors to function. Money allocated to the club by the university generally goes to travel and transportation costs.

In the past, companies such as Apex Sports and Solid Works have contributed everything from funds, to computer-aided design programs, to safety equipment for the team.

The SAE holds three annual competitions.

Competitions are comprised of several “static” events, designed to test various aspects of the vehicle, as well as a four-hour endurance race. The static events involve a maneuverability course and a mud pit.

To prep for these events, team members train on a dirt track located near the Four Diamonds complex.

There they determine, based on skill and often weight, which members will handle the car during which events.

Simplicity dominates the designs of the Baja Club’s custom cruisers. The vehicle is devoid of any superfluous parts and follows a minimalistic template.

The automotive company Briggs & Stratton provides the engines to all competitors and no modifications to the engine are permitted.

The SAE website has the unit provided by Briggs & Stratton, the 10 HP OHV Intek Model 205432, retailing at just less than $630.

By requiring a standard engine, all competitors are placed on a level playing field and will meet the safety standard. Teams must ensure the longevity of their engines, as the corporation only issues new motors every two years.

Belknap indicated crews can modify the intake but are required to use Briggs & Stratton parts. Belknap did explain the design of the frame sacrifices durability for light weight.

He signified this was both to ensure the longevity of the vehicle and to keep it from buckling during events.

The club’s new vehicle, named Jessica, is currently being developed. It will feature several improvements over the previous model, including an improved rear suspension.

Lola, the team’s former vehicle, will now be used for training purposes, specifically orienting new members with how to drive a Baja vehicle.

“My team will be working on [Jessica], while another team leader will be training new members,” said Belknap.

The next competition that the Baja Club plans to attend will be May 22-25, in Pittsburg, Kan. The members are optimistic about attending a similar event two weeks later in Illinois.