Engineering students prepare for off-road competition
Posted: 05/07/2001
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When it comes to new and challenging projects, some students at The University of Texas-Pan American are literally going off the beaten path.

Five members of the UTPA student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) are designing a special off-road vehicle to compete in the Midwest Mini Baja competition June 1-3 in Troy City, Ohio.

"The students get to apply the engineering theory they learn in class by designing, building and testing the performance of a real vehicle in a highly competitive environment," said Dr. Edwin LeMaster, Engineering Department chair. "The real world challenges they face during the competition will build their leadership and team skills."

Members of the team are co-captain Alik Anwar Fedorenko, 22, senior mechanical engineering student of McAllen; co-captain Oscar Gonzalez, 21, mechanical engineering student and Rogelio Zamorano, 21, mechanical engineering student, both of Weslaco; Cale Ruby, 20, electrical engineering student of Mission; and Julio Gutierrez, 20, sophomore manufacturing engineering student of McAllen.

The UTPA Mini Baja team prepares for the Mini Baja Midwest Competition in June. From left are senior Alik Fedorenko, sophomore Alex Garza, sophomore Julio Gutierrez and junior Cale Ruby. Not pictured is junior Oscar Gonzalez.

The team will join several schools from Brazil, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Columbia in the competition and will represent both the University and the Rio Grande Valley.

"We'd like to get our school on the map," Gutierrez said. "It's great being able to represent our school."

The object of the Mini Baja is to simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges.

Each team competes to have its design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm that wants to mass-produce them. The students work as a team to design, build, test, promote and race a vehicle within the limits of the rules.

"This is a challenging project with real deadlines, technical problems and constraints that must be addressed by the team," said Dr. Rajiv Nambiar, UTPA professor and team advisor. "They will continue to learn engineering as they apply their knowledge to real problems."

Each team's goal is to design and build a prototype of a four-wheel, single seat, off-road recreational vehicle intended for sale to the non-professional, weekend off-road enthusiast. The vehicle must be safe, easily transported, easily maintained and fun to drive.

Further, the vehicle should negotiate rough terrain without damage, and in a production volume of 4,000 units annually, its manufacturing cost must be less than $2,500.

There are several events in the Mini Baja competition. Static events include a formal engineering sales presentation before a panel of judges, an engineering design and safety report, and a cost report. The dynamic events include a hill climb, maneuverability, acceleration and four-hour endurance race.

Recently, the team took the finished car for a four-hour endurance test at a dirt track in south McAllen. A few minor alterations were needed, including brake and steering adjustments.

"This competition is no joke. Schools go all out because they know of the recognition it can bring to the team, engineers and especially the school," Fedorenko said.

Students must raise $20,000 to cover materials, registration fees, travel and lodging, and Fedorenko said that has been one of the main obstacles.

"We are usually struggling to get donations since this project is so new and the people are not used to these kinds of things," he said. "Even though we have very limited funds this year, we will come back with a top place."

To support the team, contact Fedorenko at 956/793-9391 or the Department of Engineering at 381-3510.