It will be the "Mad Russian" versus the "Steel Horse" as two teams from The University of Texas-Pan American compete in the national Midwest Mini Baja competition, June 5-8 in Dayton, Ohio. The UTPA teams will be among 147 teams competing from the United States and around the world in the Midwest competition.
Sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the object of the Mini Baja competition is to simulate real-world engineering design projects. Students work together to design, build, test, promote and race a vehicle within the limits of the rules. There are three regional competition locations - West, East and Midwest.
This year UTPA has entered two vehicles in the competition. One vehicle, named the "Mad Russian," had an all female design team - a first for UTPA. Dr. Arturo Fuentes, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and faculty adviser to the Mini Baja participants, hopes both teams land in the top 20. Last year UTPA's one entry placed 22nd out of 125 teams.
The design team for the "Mad Russian" includes Ariana Gonzalez, team captain; Claudia Garcia; Ericka Ramirez; and Cecilia Treviño, all recent graduates in mechanical engineering. Other team members include freshman Hiram Rivera and sophomore Travis Brandt.
The other team, commanding the "Steel Horse," includes Rogelio Zamorano, team captain and Fernando Gallegos, team co-captain, both juniors; sophomore Michelle Moreno; and seniors Gabriel Salinas, Noe Salinas and Albino Rodriguez. Members of both teams are mechanical engineering majors. Team participants must also be members of SAE.
The prototype is a four-wheel, single seat, off-road recreational vehicle that is intended for the non-professional driver. The vehicle must be safe, easily maintained and transported, fun to drive, endure rough terrain and maintain a long life of components.
Gonzalez said the male designed car is faster and will probably do better in the speed events. However, she said the female designed car has more torque which will allow it to perform better in the hill climb and sled pull - two of the many events the cars are tested in. The cars will perform in a four hour endurance race on the last day of competition. Team members take turns driving in the different events. Top mobility industry experts score all events and pre-submitted design and cost reports to determine the winners.
"This competition is a learning experience that will be a foundation for their professional careers," Fuentes said.
All the female design team members have already secured jobs with major companies - Garcia at Lockheed-Martin in Ft. Worth, Texas; Gonzalez at Lockheed-Martin in California; Ramirez at Raytheon in California; and Treviño at General Motors in Michigan.
Ramirez said the competition experience helped her in obtaining a job.
"I had to learn about business, how to raise and handle money, as well as make many presentations concerning the car. Recruiters like seeing this type of experience on your resume," Ramirez said.
Gallegos echoed Ramirez' praise of the competition experience.
"What you learn in class you get to apply in real life and we also have a lot of fun," said Gallegos.
For the competition, Fuentes said the students go through the complete engineering design process including the design, analyses of different types of impacts and rollover, and testing of the different systems, including the power train, steering, suspension - all following under an extensive list of safety recommendations and requirements.
There are many benefits to participating in the competition Fuentes said. "Students get to network with top engineers and the world gets to see what we can do at our University," he said.
Teams are provided a 10-horsepower engine donated by Briggs and Stratton but are responsible for raising funds to pay for the raw materials, component parts, tools and other expenses of production and competition.
Major sponsors of this year's teams are Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon. Fuentes also credited significant support from University technicians, faculty, Office of External Affairs and University President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez.
For more information on SAE or the Mini Baja competition, contact Dr. Fuentes at 956/316-7099.