Tech Mini-Baja Team 41st At Nationals

BURLINGTON, Wisc., June 17, 2009 – The New Mexico Tech Mini-Baja team finished a disappointing 41st in the national competition last week, undone by a breakdown during the crucial endurance race.

“I don’t think we did that bad at all,” team leader Aaron Dawson said. “I think we learned a lot from it. We finished a little lower than we expected, but we gained a lot from the experience.”

Rick Holets, the lone team member to graduate in May, said his time on the Tech Mini-Baja team was the most involved and most rewarding experience at the university. The four-day event concluded Sunday, June 13.

The New Mexico Tech Mini-Baja team is (from left) Daniel Vickers, Matt Tibbetts, Dustin Schraeder, advisor Jake Scarborough, David Gerrells, Michael Belvin, Matt O'Keeffe, instructor Dr. Warren Ostergren, Rick Holets, mechanical engineering professor Dr. Ashok Ghosh, Nathan Cunninghamm and technical advisor Hollis Dinwiddie. Seated are team leader Aaron Dawson and team supporter Anjik Ghosh. Not pictured are team members Rick Garner, Nick Karler and Derek Nieman and volunteer Scott Gagan.

“It’s more than an extracurricular activity; it’s more like a way of life,” he said. “I stayed in Socorro over breaks and over the summer to work on the project. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything.”

Holets and Dawson said a 41st place finish was a bit disappointing, but they were proud of the team’s performance. Seniors on the team are Michael Belvin, Nathan Cunningham, Dawson, Rick Garner, David Boyd-Gerrells, Holets and Nick Karler. Juniors on the team are Matt O’Keeffe, Derek Nieman, Dustin Schraeder, Matt Tibbetts and Daniel Vickers. Freshman Scott Gagan was on the team as a volunteer.

Dawson, an Edgewood native, said the frame broke during the endurance race, sidelining the vehicle for 75 minutes. He said the vehicle suffered a broken “A arm” during the previous day’s suspension and traction road test. That damage directly contributed to the frame breaking.

“We hit a rock in the middle of the course during the suspension and traction test,” Dawson said. “One of the A arms broke and we believe that either fatigued or cracked the frame. That crack in the frame lead to a catastrophic failure during the endurance race.”

Dawson said he was impressed with the entire team’s response to the breakdown. Crew chief Daniel Vickers and all the seniors directed the repair efforts to get the vehicle back on the track. The team feverishly welded and re-sleeved the frame. They also had to re-seat a tire and fix a broken tie-rod coupling.

“We all saw the car broken and we immediately headed to the pits,” Dawson said. “It was really impressive how well everyone worked together.”

The mechanical engineering team spent all year designing and building their off-road vehicle for the Society of Automotive Engineers annual event. Dawson said the team functioned as a cohesive engineering team all year, but they always remembered that once they reached the competition they would function as a race team, not as design engineers.

Holets said, “We worked as hard as we could and as quickly as we could to get it running. Some teams would have given up. Not us. We don’t give up.”

The team was near its goal of a top 10 finish heading into the final day, just needing a top finish in the four-hour endurance race. After two technical inspections, three static judging and five dynamic tests, the Tech team stood in 29th place.

“In the overall spectrum, we’re competing with 120 teams,” said Holets, a native of Rio Rancho. “So, 41st isn’t too bad. I feel that our car could have done better, but some times things don’t work out.”

In the final four-hour endurance test, the Tech team finished in 56th place, falling to 41st overall. They earned 161 points out of 400 available in the endurance race. A top 5 finish in the final event would have propelled the Techies to 12th overall.

On the strength of a 19th place ranking in the overall design, the Tech team was 28th after the static events. The design presentation was worth 200 points and Tech scored 157.392 points. The team was 37th in cost and 57th in the technical inspections.

In the other dynamic tests – each of which were worth 60 points – the Tech team finished in the middle of the pack: 31st in acceleration, 43rd in maneuverability, 23rd in the mud bog, 33rd in the tractor pull and 59th in traction and suspension.

The endurance race was worth 400 points and Tech lost significant ground to the competition. New Mexico Tech scored 165.22 points and dropped 13 places to 41st overall.

Oregon State won the competition, with Centro Universitario Da FEI of Sao Paolo, Brazil, in second and South Florida in third.
New Mexico Tech’s placing, while not as stellar as the students hoped, was still very respectable. The Tech team finished ahead of many larger schools: Central Michigan (42nd), Northern Arizona (43rd), Virginia (57th), Michigan State (65th) and Arizona State (74th).

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich