Tech's Car #27 in action at MiniBaja West (Also see Tech's official press release) advisor


A team from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) came in fourth overall and second in the endurance event in the 2002 annual Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Mini Baja® Western Regional Competition.

Mini Baja® 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.

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.

Tech's MiniBaja Team (Front row (l-r): Keagan Rowley, Glorianna Grado, Stefanie Montgomery, Belinda Owen, Hollis Dinwiddie, and Orlando Chaparro (kneeling). Back row (l-r): Paul Carpenter, Josiah Garfield, Peter Nivala, Matt Edwards, Jason Kemp, Ryan Borden, Chris Durand, and Tom West.)

All vehicles are powered by a ten-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corporation. For over twenty-five years, the generosity of Briggs & Stratton has enabled SAE to provide each team with a dependable engine free of charge. Use of the same engine by all the teams creates a more challenging engineering design test.

This year's western regional competition was held in Logan, UT, at and near the campus of Utah State University. New Mexico Tech entered two cars in the competition. Car 27 was the culmination of one full year of design, fabrication, and testing work done by a team of seniors, and juniors, as well as some freshman and sophomore volunteers. Car 28 was essentially last year's car, with major modifications made by the juniors and other volunteers on the team.

Approximately 95 cars, representing some 80 schools showed up for this international event. In addition to teams from all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico, a team from Beirut, Lebanon competed this year. This is the first time a team from the Middle East has ever participated in an SAE event. They received a warm welcome, and were very enthusiastic about their experience.

Scoring for the Western Regional Competition was based on judging in six areas. These were a report detailing the design of the car, a sales presentation, and four car performance events, namely hill climb, maneuverability, acceleration, and endurance.

The first three performance events took place on Friday, April 26, 2002. The hill climb event determined which cars could make it up a long steep incline fastest. The maneuverability event involved a short course with rough terrain, sharp turns, and a slalom section. The acceleration event was a simple drag race. In each event, a car¹s score was taken as the better time of two runs.

Tech's MiniBaja Team

(Front row (l-r): Josiah Garfiels, Peter Nivala, Hollis Dinwiddie, Glorianna Grado, Stefanie Montgomery, Belinda Owen. Back row (l-r): Paul Carpenter, Tom West, Jason Kemp, Chris Durand, Matt Edwards, Orlando Chaparro, faculty advisor David Johnson, Keagan Rowley, Steve Daum of SAE, and Ryan Borden.)

True to the forecast, it rained all day long Friday, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. But, both of Tech's cars did well on the hill climb and maneuverability events. Car 28 (the junior team car) actually beat car 27 (the senior car) on the maneuverability course, prompting some good-natured ribbing afterward.

Car 27, with Stefanie Montgomery driving, took the lead late in the acceleration competition, with a time of 6.32 seconds on her second run. Most cars were averaging in the high seven second range. NMT had hopes that her time would stand as the best for the day, but with only a few teams left, two cars racing each other both scored times of 6.32 seconds. For one of these, it was their second run, so they were finished. But for the other car, it was only their first run. On their second go, they ran a time of 6.29 seconds to win the event. Since car 27 tied for second, the judges looked at each car¹s second-best time, to break the tie, and car 27 ended up in third place for the acceleration event. Team leader Jason Kemp lamented that if they had just taken the time to scrape the mud out of the interior of the car, they may well have made up those 3 hundredths of a second, and won.

At the end of Friday, car 28 was in 52nd place, and car 27 was in 9th place overall. This meant that if car 27 could hold together for the endurance event, Tech had a good shot of ending up in the top 10 in the overall standings.

The endurance event took place on Saturday, April 27, 2002, and consisted of four hours of driving over a closed course, to see how many laps could be completed by each car. Each lap was approximately 2.5 miles long, and included a good amount of rough terrain, some nice jumps, and several nearly vertical dropoffs. Unfortunately for Tech's junior team, car 28 suffered a catastrophic failure in its drive train, and only completed two laps in the event. Car 27 had no mechanical failures, and completed the race.

Again, there was rain all day, and temperatures in the 40s. This made for miserable conditions for the drivers. Not only was the track muddy, but there were many standing puddles that could not be avoided. This lead to visibility problems, with goggles being covered in muck, and the drivers were completely soaked by the continual splash from the tires. With the low temperatures, several teams had drivers suffering from cold and fatigue, and many dropped out of the endurance event because of this.

Some drivers had waterproof GoreTex® suits, but Tech's team had no idea that conditions would be so bad, and did not have such suits. Tech's endurance drivers, Chris Durand and Hollis Dinwiddie, went above and beyond the call of duty in pushing through to the end in this grueling event. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances, they finished second in the endurance event to earn Tech's car 27 a fourth place in the overall standings.

The club's advisor, David P. Johnson of the Mechanical Engineering faculty (johnson@nmt.edu), said, "We should rightly be proud of these young people, and their ability to compete at the highest level against schools that have much greater funding and infrastructure resources. We beat teams from Rochester Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech, Cal Poly, the University Illinois, and many others. I think competing with Mini Baja® has given those involved an experience they will long remember, and cherish as a highlight of their educational experience at Tech."

Team members who participated in this year's Mini Baja® competition were:

Jason Kemp: (Team Leader) lucky7@nmt.edu
Stefanie Montgomery: stefanie@nmt.edu
Chris Durand: cdurand@nmt.edu
Hollis Dinwiddie: wood@nmt.edu

Belinda Owen
Gloriana Grado
Orlando Chaparro
Matt Edwards
Josiah Garfield
Other team members and volunteers:
Ryan Borden
Peter Nivala
Paul Carpenter
Tom West
Keagan Rowley
Omar Hernendez

Faculty advisor
David P. Johnson johnson@nmt.edu, 505-835-5505