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Society of Automotive Engineers Mini Baja Race

A test of endurance

K-State team stopped by mechanical problems during weekend engineering competition


Rochelle Steele
Kansas State Collegian


The roar of engines and cheers of encouragement sounded in the distance while the clank of metal and groans of disappointment came from the K-State team's baja car trailer.

Team members worked frantically to fix the broken components of their baja car to get it back on the race track and catch up to the leaders. But as the fourth and final hour of the race ended, the car and team were not in the running.

Saturday's race ended the K-State team's problematic weekend at the Mini Baja Competition at School Creek ORV Area at Milford Reservoir.

"When the car was running, it was real competitive," Todd Wicker, senior in mechanical engineering, said. "The problem was it wasn't running when we needed it to."

The K-State chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers was host of the competition, which was part of the National Collegiate Design Series. About 500 members of about 60 collegiate teams from across the United States and Mexico participated in the competition.

Participants competed in three events on Friday - maneuverability, hill climbing and acceleration - to earn points and determine starting positions for Saturday's four-hour endurance race.

Teams had two chances at each preliminary event, and the best run was recorded. The teams' times in acceleration determined their places at the starting line.

"We were running really well and then our rack mounts broke off. It's the stress of the steering that causes it to pop loose."

Brad Davis
sophomore in construction science and management

"The better you do in acceleration, the closer you are to the starting line," said Brent Hartwich, senior in mechanical engineering and member of K-State's team. "They put the faster ones in front to get them away from the slower ones."

The K-State team first encountered problems during the second run of preliminaries when the car turned end-over-end down the incline in the hill climb event and rolled on its side during maneuverability.

"That was a ride," Hartwich, who was driving, said. "I was rolling back down the hill, and the judge picked up a little on the front end, and it flipped down backwards.

"I rolled it on the maneuverability test too," he said. "I was sliding around a corner and hit a rut."

In the second acceleration trial K-State's team improved its time, moving its entry, No. 64, forward at the start of Saturday's race.

The team with the most laps completed on the two-mile course at the end of four hours would win.

The course included eight hazards, including a steep decline called Case Skid and Steer Hill and a row of logs called Briggs & Stratton Twigs to Flatten.

"I like the course a lot," Hartwich said. "It has water, trees, rocks - everything. It will put a car to the test."

Hartwich said the strategy for the final race was simple.

"If you can avoid breakdown, you are good to go," he said.

But breakdown plagued the K-State team during the final race.

The race began at 10:10 a.m., and cars entered the course in staggered groups of 10.

The cars had raced for about 30 minutes when judges threw a red flag, stopping all traffic on the course. Reports from hand-held radios said a driver had broken a leg and was being moved off the track.

The race resumed at 11 a.m., but some cars - including K-State's - did not continue. The rack mounts for the steering had broken, causing the frame to sag inward.

"We were running really well, and then our rack mounts broke off," Brad Davis, sophomore in construction science and management, said. "It's the stress of the steering that causes it to pop loose. We pushed it off the track and welded it."

However, the welding job did not hold up, and the mounts broke again.

"The welders that we brought really aren't meant to weld the metal that we have," Wicker said. "We couldn't get enough heat to get a good weld. Hopefully now with some bracing, it will last."

The car returned to the race, but before it could finish another lap, it broke down again.

"It was going really good, but I came over a hill and hit a rock," Joe Nolte, junior in mechanical engineering and a driver for the K-State team said. "It knocked my drive line out."

The problem also knocked K-State's car out of the competition. The team ended the race with four complete laps around the track, 20 laps behind the winning team from California State University.

But even cars that ran smoothly encountered problems caused by to the track's condition. Mud-caked visors diminished visibility, and drivers lost time cleaning them off.

Johnston said the team made alterations to the car because of the recent weather.

"With all of the rain, the ground has gotten soft, and the wheels were getting stuck in the treads," he said. "We had to put tires with thicker treads on earlier in the week."

Each team designed and built the single-seat, off-road vehicles. Teams were restricted to a $2,500 budget, and the vehicles had to be powered by a Briggs & Stratton eight-horsepower engine.

The problems during the race will help with designing a better car for next year, Wicker said.

"We will keep the overall wheel base, but we will probably change where the driver sits," he said. "That will give a better front-to-rear weight ratio and give better balance."

Although changes will be made, Nolte said the problems during the race were not caused by to the car's design or construction.

"We have a real competitive car," he said. "It was the stuff that you just can't control that kept happening."



This item was published on Monday, April 19, 1999

Copyright 1999, Student Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
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