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Baja Team Races to Top at Competition

July 8, 2014

ALLIANCE, Ohio – The University of Mount Union’s inaugural Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) Baja Team raced to the top as it placed 29th overall and 14th in maneuverability out of more than 120 registered schools competing in the Baja SAE event held recently in Peoria, Illinois.

Hosted by Caterpillar, Inc., the event was held at the company’s Vehicle Training and Testing Grounds June 4-7. Mount Union’s first ever Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja Team, composed of seniors Neal Seaman, Cy Guertal, Brian Pike, Dan Luzar, technical advisor Dale Pittman and faculty advisor Dr. Jay Boyalakuntla, put a great deal of time and effort into the last 10 months, designing, building and developing an off-road vehicle according to SAE Baja standards. The goal was to design a vehicle that would endure even the harshest elements of rough terrain. According to Boyalakuntla, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, members of the Baja team put in many 60-hour work weeks and a number of late night test sessions in the days leading up to the event.

At the SAE Baja event, the small but tenacious team of four students was presented with a tough challenge, competing against teams from well-known engineering schools, some with more than 15 years of SAE Baja experience and some with more than 15 student team members. During the event, teams participated in five competitions, which tested various aspects of the vehicle’s performance – acceleration, maneuverability, rock crawl, hill climb and the final event, a four-hour endurance race. Not only did the Mount Union team place in the top 30 overall, but it achieved 19th place during the grueling, four-hour endurance race. The endurance event tested the robustness of the car design, as well as capability of the driver and support crew throughout a course that contained over a mile of extremely challenging obstacles and barriers in each lap.

“To finish in the top 20 for a first year school with no prior SAE Baja car experience is phenomenal,” said Mount Union Engineering Advisory Board member Dale Pittman, vice president of operations and engineering at Anchor Manufacturing Group, Inc. “During the four hour endurance race, the team had the 11th fastest lap time of just four minutes 31 seconds, keeping pace within just a few seconds of the top three teams. This indicates we had a car that was just as good as the best teams on the track that day which is truly a fantastic achievement.”

To help ensure next year’s team is just as successful, there is a great need for future corporate sponsorship to help fund the 2015 Baja team. After performing so well in 2014, Pittman and Mount Union faculty members want to ensure the 2015 team is just as prepared to continue to outperform the top engineering schools in the country.

The team is extremely proud of its achievements and members have already started brainstorming for next year’s improved design, indicating they would gladly provide guidance and suggestions to the 2014-2015 Baja team. For Seaman, the best part of the competition was the endurance course, which proved to be more intense than he had anticipated – including large logs, mud pits and other obstacles.

“The endurance race was the most fun thing I’ve ever done – it was an unreal experience,” he said. “We all put a lot of time into this project and it was great to see the work pay off.”

Seaman has already secured a job in the engineering field, working as a product design engineer for MAC Trailer in Alliance. He said the team’s experience with the Baja competition will open up doors for him and his teammates in their careers.

“We went from doing background research to analysis to driving and competing – it was really neat to see the project cycle through.”

“This team has set a very high bar for future Mount Union Baja teams,” Boyalakuntla said. “They built not only a car, but a legacy that will last for many years as well.”

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