NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

NMSU students ready cars for mini baja competition

New Mexico State University students from various disciplines are coming together to build and promote mini baja off-road racecars to enter in Baja SAE, a series of competitions held in various locations around the United States.

NMSU mechanical engineering student Dalton Grossheim, drives one of the mini baja cars though the desert.
Mechanical engineering student Dalton Grossheim gives the NMSU mini baja a test drive. (Photo by Hanna Kantowski)
About 30 NMSU students are gathered around NMSU's two mini baja cars for a group photo.
Nearly 30 students from various engineering disciplines and other majors are working toward the Society of Automotive Engineers Baja competition in May. (NMSU photo by Isabel Rodriguez)

The competition is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers and draws more than 300 entries from various universities from the United States and countries around the world. The NMSU team will compete in Bellingham, Wash. from May 16 to 19, alongside teams from Mexico, Canada, India, France and South Korea.

NMSU last competed in 2009. The group was supposed to enter a car last year but was not ready in time.

"The plan is to try to enter two cars; the car from last season and a completely redesigned new car," said Ken Ruble, adviser and staff engineer. "We probably over-engineered the first car, but we know it'll be able to finish. With the second car, we're thinking outside the box and trying to push the rules as far as we can."

Before beginning fabrication on the cars, the design team spent a lot of time in the planning phase, which included numerous mechanical drawings.

All the teams must use the same engine, which is provided by Briggs and Stratton. Other than the engine, the teams are free to be creative as long as they stay within the rules. Ruble said the most important detail of assembling the mini is making the car as lightweight as possible.

The competition lasts four hours, and Ruble said he expects that there will be several drivers switching every hour or so.

"The really nice thing is that this project is run like the industry would run the project," said Ruble, manager of the NMSU Reduced Gravity and Biomechanics Lab. "We're running things the same way Cummins would run the project, and trying to focus on giving the students experience they aren't getting in other classes."

In addition to students in different engineering disciplines who are designing and building the car, a handful of marketing students are working to garner sponsors for the competition.

In addition to fundraising, there is report writing, record keeping and managing the budget - all run completely by students.

Senior Hannah Kantowski is marketing director of the project and is in charge of soliciting funds from sponsors. Her goal is to raise $40,000.

"I've done a couple of projects, but this is the first at this level of money," she said. "The most challenging part has been becoming familiar with the work the team is doing. It's harder to know what they need since I'm not an engineer. I have to be able to answer sponsors' questions."

Kantowski hopes to organize a fundraiser in the near future.

"It's fun. I never thought about how much money is out there, and that I'm capable of getting," she said. "I've learned how much work goes into a project."

"It's really important to have the marketing team in place," Ruble said. "Anybody is welcome. We're willing to teach non-engineers. Only four members of the team have been to competition before, the rest are brand new to this. It's like a mentoring program."

Nearly 30 students are involved with the project.

"There is a bunch of really talented students here," Ruble added. "I'm trying to advise them so they can figure out what's going on and make the necessary changes. It's their project, not mine."

Raymond Rossiter, president, agreed.

"It's hands-on," he said. "As engineers, we learn a lot. We apply the stuff we've learned in class in order to build stuff."

In addition to an acceleration competition, there are also maneuverability, endurance and suspension tests. The cars, Rossiter said, can reach a speed of almost 40 miles per hour.

"We don't just want a fast driver," he added. "It's almost like driving a go-cart off the road. You need to be aware of the surroundings and have an overall knowledge of how the car acts."

The team will conduct its first test run over winter break. The second will be done at the end of February.

Ruble said he feels confident about the cars they've assembled.

"This project is giving the students a real-world experience and preparing them to enter the workforce. If we're not going up to win, what are we going for"?