Battling a tight budget and treacherous weather, The University of Texas-Pan American's Human Powered Vehicle team, Human Powered Bronco, prevailed in bringing home two trophies at a recent national event.
UTPA's Human Powered Bronco placed third in two categories at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' (ASME) 2010 Human Powered Vehicle Challenge East, hosted by Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn. from May 7-9. The competition involved 29 teams vying for trophies in drag and endurance racing events at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn.
The UTPA team took home trophies for the unrestricted class men's drag racing and the unrestricted class utility-endurance racing categories. The team also placed fourth in the unrestricted class women's drag racing event.
This is the second year UTPA has competed in the challenge. Last year, the team placed 11th overall and eighth in the endurance race.
"We've come a long way from last year," said Vanessa Brown, the team member who rode the vehicle for the women's drag race competition.
Brown said despite limited resources, this year's team "helped the ball roll" in preparing the next group in building a vehicle and competing.
"I hope that our students continue to build the program," said Brown, 23, who will graduate Saturday with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
Another student on the team, Kris Ohlinger, said winning gave him a deep sense of satisfaction.
"(It is) like finding a discarded scratch-off ticket that someone mistakenly thought they lost at but in reality represents a $3 win," he said.
Ohlinger, a 27-year-old Mission resident who will graduate in December 2010, said he is a "long-standing bicycle commuting advocate and practitioner," having relied on his bicycle as his means of transportation while living in Austin. So when the opportunity arose to enter the University's master's program in mechanical engineering and join ASME, he took it.
Dr. Seokyoung Ahn, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the team's advisor, said he was proud of the team, which went up against teams from larger institutions including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
"(The competition is) a good index of how we're training engineers. They know how to work as a team, they know how to work on project -based (tasks)," he said. "It's a good index of how UTPA is doing compared to other schools."
The Human Powered Bronco resulted from a final class project. Team members spent about six months creating the vehicle, which operates similar to a bicycle but has a more aerodynamic frame. Because of a limited budget, the group used spare parts from last year's vehicle, Ahn said.
The premise of these competitions is to figure out new ways to make human powered vehicles more attractive to the public, Ahn said.
UTPA's trophies come with extra pride, as members had to overcome the challenges of raising enough money to ship their vehicle and travel to Connecticut to test their HPV in inclement weather.
The University, as well as Cougar Marine in Weslaco, Bike Masters, De Leon Auto Accessories - both in McAllen -and Rio Grande Urethane and Insulation in Edinburg, provided funds and in-kind help.
Members still had to raise additional money and pay out of pocket to make the trip, however. They also had to ship the vehicle in parts because it was cheaper that way, Ahn said.
When they arrived, team members had to acclimate to the chillier weather in Connecticut. A thunderstorm that Saturday washed out the competition to the following day. On Sunday, the temperature dropped to the 30s with wind gusts of up to 40 mph.
Despite these obstacles, the team persevered, besting many larger institutions with bigger budgets.
"I'm really proud of that," Ahn said.
Next year, the UTPA Human Powered Vehicle team will compete at the Indiana Motor Speedway, site of the Indianapolis 500 race.
For more information about the competition, visit http://www.asme.org/Events/Contests/HPV/2010_HPVC_East_CCSU.cfm