Engineering talent and teamwork - not wings - allowed "Pegasus," one of the two Mini Baja vehicles from The University of Texas-Pan American, to "fly" to 25th place recently in the 2004 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Midwest Mini Baja Competition in Milwaukee, Wis. The other UTPA team vehicle, named "Centaur," placed 92nd out of the 137 national and international teams competing June 3-6.
In its sixth year of competition and its second year entering two vehicles, UTPA was the only university representing Texas in the 2004 Midwest competition and finished ahead of such institutions as Ohio State, University of Florida and Michigan State University. Winning the competition was SAE Brasil, a top team resulting from competitions held in the country prior to the Midwest competition. Universities from Canada, Argentina, South Africa and Korea also participated.
"This competition gives the students a taste of real life industry, under pressure or under the gun, which prepares them for when they graduate. They can take this experience with them," he said.
Students participating in the 2004 competition included Roy Villanueva (Pegasus captain), Oscar Flores (Pegasus co-captain), Olga Vargas, Rogelio Zamorano, Joe Villanueva, Gabriel Salinas (Centaur captain), Fernando Gallegos (Centaur co-captain), Hiram Rivera, Rodrigo Lavat, Noe Salinas, Ruben Ybarra, Albino Rodriguez, Antonio Garcia, Faraon Torres and Jorge Rojas.
Although closely matched in many of the scoring areas, the Centaur team vehicle fell considerably in the rankings when one of its bearings failed in the endurance race held the final day, causing Centaur to only complete five laps before breaking down.
"The Centaur was the seniors' car and it was assumed it would perform better. Of course there had been some competition between the seniors and the lower division engineering student team members, but everybody came together as one team at the end in the endurance race to help each other out. That was awesome to see," Arteaga said.
Arteaga described the competition as much more than just a race. During the four-day competition, team vehicles are awarded points in the areas of design report, cost analysis report, static display, dynamic testing and performance over a rugged endurance race. Points in the area of static display include those for craftsmanship, operator comfort, serviceability, structural design, feasibility of mass production, power train, suspension and brake, and originality and innovation. The dynamic testing total score is comprised of points given in acceleration, top speed, skid pull, maneuverability and hill climb.
"The students grapple with real life project constraints of budgets, timelines, team building, heavy curricular obligations and time management. These are all important lessons in the education of engineers as they move from the academic environment into jobs in industry, government, and business," he said.
Salinas, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Sullivan City, who co-captained the Centaur team, said besides design, the competition has helped him learn how to weld and use the machine shop efficiently.
"The number one thing you learn is how to work as a team - learning to deal with other people, other people's ideas and characters. Not everyone agrees but it is how you work together," he said, noting some of the top teams at the national competition had 15 team members to a car.
Roy Villanueva, a junior from Edinburg majoring in mechanical engineering, said the competition allows students to apply their engineering skills.
"You can get your education here (UTPA) but the competition is a place where you can grow. I already have ideas for next year's event and hope we can land in the top 10 in the 2005 competition," said Villanueva enthusiastically.
The object of the Mini Baja competition is to simulate real-world design projects. Hosted in three regional locations - West, East and Midwest - SAE offers the students an opportunity to design, build, test, promote and race a vehicle within certain rules. All vehicles are powered by a 10-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corp. Teams are then responsible for raising funds for the other raw materials, component parts, tools and other expenses of production and competition.
Major corporate support for the UTPA teams was provided by the Boeing Corp. Local sponsors included ER Paint and Body, Southern Steel, McAllen Bolt and Screw, Eagle Race Cars (Roy Perez), Air Gas, Black and Decker and Academy Sports and Outdoors Inc.
Additional University support was provided by the UTPA Division of External Affairs, which financed the truck and trailer transporting the vehicles to the competition. Serving as year round faculty adviser to the Mini Baja participants is Dr. Arturo Fuentes, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who this summer is participating in a NASA research fellowship in California that conflicted with the competition date.
Fuentes said administration support was important to the students' successful participation and in addition to LeMaster, he cited the guidance of Dr. Hashim Mahdi, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and Dr. Robert Freeman, professor of mechanical engineering.
"Aside from the experience the students gained through the competition, UTPA benefited as well with the recognition from companies and other universities across the nation of having a high quality engineering program," Fuentes said.
According to their Web site, SAE is a non-profit educational and scientific organization dedicated to advancing mobility technology to better serve humanity. The organization has more than 84,000 members - engineers, business executives, educators, and students - from more than 97 countries.
For more information on SAE or the Mini Baja competition, visit their Web site at www.sae.org