Thanks to team work, dedication, and preparation, the Kettering University SAE Baja team walked away from this year’s Winter Baja competition with a third place finish.
The team, which competed at Michigan Technological University in February in Houghton, Michigan, also won the Michigan Tech Baja Team award for Best Drifting and had the fastest lap of the race.
“This was a proof of our vehicles' and team's performance, and the team is very happy with our results,” said Eric Stuckey ‘19, president of Kettering’s Baja team. “The Achilles heel of all Baja and SAE competitions is not being prepared for the competition. Whether mentally, or physically, a team's level of preparedness is what causes a good team to do poorly. We've struggled with having our cars done and ready ahead of time in the past, but this year, that was not the case. We had both vehicles done, tuned, and all of our equipment ready to go and loaded into the trailer five days before our Saturday race.”
Kettering’s Baja team designs and builds an offroad vehicle from scratch in the SAE Garage on campus. The students design all the parts and make them by hand to get their vehicle ready for the main event: a four-hour endurance race going head-to-head on the track with all the other teams.
With 19 Kettering students at the competition, the team worked well together, Stuckey said. The team went up against a total of 17 teams with 36 cars total on the track.
"SAE Collegiate Design competitions give students the opportunity to put their classroom training to use to help solve real-life technical problems facing society," said Dr. Gregory Davis, Mechanical Engineering faculty member, Director of the Advanced Engine Research Laboratory at Kettering, and Kettering Motorsports Faculty Advisor. “The students' approach to these issues is unique. They think outside the box. Manufacturers tend to be fairly conservative, while the students want to ‘push the envelope.’ They don't know what can't be done. Often the students' efforts will challenge the manufacturers to undertake more ambitious projects and take better products to market."
The team also earned third place and received an award for fastest lap in 2018. The team drastically improved from its ninth place finish in 2017.
The weather during this year’s competition fared well for the team as the sun was out, but it was not too warm to melt the snow and not too cold to make it unbearable. The team showed up to the track ready for the day.
To prepare for competition the team repaired various components on both cars and went testing in the snow to ensure everything was working properly, said Aaron Pitzer ‘20, who has been a Baja team member for two and a half years.
“I was not surprised with our finish of third place this year. We were the most prepared we have ever been. Both cars were finished a week in advance and we loaded the trailer days before we left for competition. Typically we spend the night before working on the cars all night long and that simply wasn't the case this time,” he said. “This competition was one of the most relaxing ones that I have been to due to the preparedness of the team and good attitudes from all who attended.”
By participating in Baja, students apply what they learn in the classroom and their co-ops and apply it to the competition. They learn machining, fabrication, composites, and design.
It’s also a way for students to connect, network, and build their resume.
“I got involved in Baja because I enjoy designing things and getting to see them out. I stay involved in Baja because of the friendships I have made and opportunities to better myself as an engineer,” said Adam Schneirla ‘22, who has been involved in Baja for a year and a half. “Baja adds a validation factor to my Kettering experience because I am able to apply what I learned in the classroom and over work term to Baja and also apply what I learned in Baja to my classes and at work.
“People should get involved in any SAE team because of the real life experience it gives and the opportunities for design and manufacturing creativity.”