Bulldog Baja goes north

Feb 20, 2009

For the first time in seven years the Kettering Baja SAE team traveled to Houghton, Mich., to run their vehicle in the 2009 Winter Baja competition sponsored by Michigan Technological University.

The Kettering Baja team battled the cold and engine woes Saturday, Feb. 14, at Michigan Technological University’s Winter Baja in Houghton, Mich., where the temperature was a balmy 16 degrees F. The team made the 500-mile journey to test some of the modifications they have made since the Baja SAE competition in April 2008.

Their modifications help them place 25th in a field of 42, a “huge accomplishment for Kettering’s Baja team,” according to Karen Dernar, of North Royalton, Ohio, co-captain of the A-Section team with Mike Tebbe, of Holly,Mich.

“During the first two hours of endurance racing at Michigan Tech we encountered trouble with the stock engine required for competition,” said Dernar. “We took time out in the pits to fix it,” she said, “and in the last two hours of the endurance race, with a cleaned carburetor and a full tank of fuel, we almost doubled our laps to a total of 44, and five driver changes.” Overall, the team gained 69 laps, putting them in 25th place out of 42 vehicles.

The team introduced their current Baja car at competition in April 2008 in Peoria, Ill. Unfortunately, they were unable to finish the endurance race due to failed components resulting from rough conditions, according to Dernar.

Since then the team has focused on designing and building a better vehicle. “We improved upon the same car so we could compete this February at Michigan Tech,” Dernar explained.

Improvements included modified lower control arms and mounts for increased strength, a new 90-degree steering box for tighter turns and modified rear hub design to prevent the failure they experienced in April. To help with handling on the snow and ice during the winter competition, the team was sponsored by Super Sports Inc. in Waterford, Mich., who donated deep tread winter race tires for the car.

“I am so proud of all that we have accomplished with this car. The team learned how solid and rigid our car is, and with that in mind, our goal is to greatly reduce weight in the 2009 car,” she said.

The average competitive weight for a Baja vehicle is between 400-500 pounds.  The Kettering Baja vehicle currently weighs just under 600 pounds. “We will attempt to reduce the weight to about 500 pounds including the driver,” said Dernar, “and also improve our steering and handling, and CVT efficiency.”

“The team has high hopes coming out of last weekend’s competition, and we hope to become even more competitive in the upcoming competitions in April and November,” Dernar said. In April 2009 the team will compete in Alabama at Auburn University with the 2009 version of their vehicle, currently being built.

Kettering’s Baja team consists of Dernar and Tebbe, B-section captain Nick Ward, and faculty adviser Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, professor of Mechanical Engineering. Joe Gibes, of Janesville, Wis., and Brandan Wade, of Brighton, Mich., helped the team prepare for and run the 2009 Winter Baja competition. The team had additional help from graduate assistant Adam Firestone and members of the Kettering SAE Formula team, including Quinn Griesdale, Will Carter and Louis Post.

About Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series: (From the SAE International web site)

Baja SAE consists of three regional competitions that simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges. Engineering students are tasked to design and build an off-road vehicle that will survive the severe punishment of rough terrain and sometimes even water.

The object of the competition is to provide SAE student members with a challenging project that involves the planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market. Teams compete against one another to have their design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm. Students must function as a team to not only design, build, test, promote, and race a vehicle within the limits of the rules, but also to generate financial support for their project and manage their educational priorities.

All vehicles are powered by a ten-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corporation. Use of the same engine by all the teams creates a more challenging engineering design test.

For more information about SAE International’s Collegiate Design Series, visit http://students.sae.org/competitions/

About Winter Baja: (From the Michigan Technological University web site)

Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) was one of the first schools to participate in the SAE sanctioned Mini Baja with event founder and team advisor Dr. William Shapton. Starting in 1981, Michigan Tech hosted the first ever Winter Baja - an event designed to test the off-road vehicle in winter's worst conditions. Winter Baja was successful during the eighties, but as the decade came to a close, so did Winter Baja. Reinvigorated with a new advisor, the Michigan Tech Mini Baja team redesigned the event format and hosted the rebirth of Winter Baja in 2001. Since that time, the event has continued to grow, and is now one of the largest Mini Baja events in the nation.

For more information about 2009 Winter Baja, visit http://www.baja.mtu.edu/winter_baja.html

Written by Dawn Hibbard