UTPA Mini Baja team hopes to place high at international competition
Posted: 05/20/2008
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There are high hopes for "Archipos" and the Mini Baja team from The University of Texas-Pan American to do well as they gear up to compete in the international Mini Baja competition, June 11-14 in Orford, Quebec in Canada. The UTPA team will be among 120 teams competing from the United States and around the world in the international competition.

Pictured are several members of the UTPA Mini Baja team with their car "Archipos" who will attend the SAE international competition next month in Canada.
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.

Team Captain Joe Villanueva said this year's design was started as soon as they came back from the competition last summer, which he feels will be critical to the team's jumpstart on the competition.

"Our goal was to complete the entire design of the vehicle by the end of August 2007. We did just that, benchmarking ourselves with schools placing in the top 10 and improving every component of the vehicle," Villanueva said.

The overall weight of the vehicle was reduced by 40 percent - 145 pounds - from last year's car, which placed 59th out of 130 teams. Villanueva said the vehicle is currently exhibiting features found on most top 10 cars such as fast acceleration, top speed, maneuverability and reliability.

"Our team truly believes that this vehicle is going to bring some recognition to UTPA and that it's going to prove that we did plan out very well," he said. "We had one goal in mind and that was winning this competition. I'm looking forward to proving to people that we are a force to be reckoned with."

Although Villanueva wishes everyone who worked on the car could attend, only six team members will be able attend the competition in Canada next month, due to funding constraints. The UTPA Foundation recently generously agreed to fund the trip to the competition for the only female team member, Astrid K. Torres.

The team is composed of the following members: Dr. Arturo A. Fuentes, associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior adviser; Dr. Kamalaksha Sarkar, mechanical engineering lecturer and adviser; Villanueva; Torres; Julian Gutierrez, co-captain; Humberto Rodriguez; Luis Dominguez, Eddie E. Perez, Roberto Perez, Victor Salinas, Nathaniel Olivarez and Eleazar Ruiz.

"We need as much assistance and support from the community as we can get," he said. "Anybody interested in helping this already succeeding team would be able to help by providing means of transportation to and from competition, purchasing safety equipment, testing equipment, wheels, tires and even providing grounds for testing the vehicle. We would appreciate any type of support."

Villanueva said he has learned a lot the past five years while participating in the Mini Baja competition because being part of the team has helped him mature as an adult and professional.

"When I first got into baja I came in scrubbing tires and just doing little things like that, but as I progressed I've been able to learn how to apply the knowledge and the skills that I learned in the classroom into a real project," he said. "Allowing students to be able to practice those skills along with team management, project management, communication and presentational really does prepare you for industry."

For Fuentes, serving as senior adviser of the team is rewarding because he gets to see students gain hands-on experience.

"Most of our students that have participated in the past with Mini Baja have commented that their participation in the team has been key to obtaining well paid jobs after they graduate and a lot of the people that are out there in industry actually see positive results from students who get involved in these types of activities," Fuentes said. "It (Mini Baja) helps them in their interviews, it helps them when they start working and also it helps them when they take on new projects. This activity helps from the point of view of creating a budget for a project, creating a time line and then executing that time line with the budget that they have."

The team's current sponsors include Boeing; DeLeon Auto Accessories, McAllen; ER Paint & Body, Edinburg; Rod Works, Edinburg; and McAllen Motor Sports, McAllen.

For more information about the SAE or the Mini Baja competition, contact Fuentes at 956/316-7099.