Baja Buggy Race Returns to UTEP


Baja Buggy Race Returns to UTEP


Members of UTEP's Mad Pete Motorsports teams are preparing to compete in the Baja SAE UTEP competition April 24-27. Photo by Laura Trejo UTEP News Service
Members of UTEP's Mad Pete Motorsports teams are preparing
to compete in the Baja SAE UTEP competition April 24-27.
Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The terrain will be bumpy, the challenges intense, and there might be a few breakdowns along the way, but 100 teams from around the world – 1,500 participants – are gearing up to take on this exciting engineering challenge.

The Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) was last at The University of Texas at El Paso in 1998. Much has changed since UTEP hosted the competition 16 years ago: the number of teams has doubled and the competition has gone from a primarily regional scale to a global one.

The University also has undergone a few transformations: $400 million has been invested in new construction and facility renovations, research expenditures are six times higher, and doctoral students have doubled.

"We develop real professional practice opportunities for our students," said College of Engineering Dean Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., during a media event announcing UTEP as the host institution for the Baja SAE event April 24-27. "This will be a good opportunity to spotlight our dedicated students, renowned faculty, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, and high-caliber research."

Baja SAE UTEP 2014 is one of those hands-on experiences. The competition challenges student teams to design, plan and manufacture a safe off-road vehicle that can maneuver a variety of obstacles in a rugged environment. The design competition parallels the actual process of bringing a new product to the consumer market. The collegiate teams compete to have their design and entry accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm.

This year, UTEP's engineering students fielded two teams — a first for the program. Both under the Mad Pete Motorsports name, one team consists of experienced students and the other of first-time participants. The first-time participants will use the frame from last year's competition while the experienced team has started building its vehicle from scratch.

"Every competitor dreams about this moment – bringing the competition to your home turf," said Sergio Maldonado, Baja SAE UTEP 2014 project coordinator and engineering graduate research assistant. Maldonado has been involved with the UTEP team since 2007 when he helped build an off-road vehicle.

"The competition teaches you valuable skills needed to succeed in industry," he added.

In addition to durability, reliability and performance, teams must consider cost and appearance. Over the last year, UTEP members have compiled materials and cost estimates, presented a budget review to faculty in the College of Engineering, and reviewed vehicle designs with professors.

"This event perfectly aligns with our vision to create a design-centric learning environment," said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., mechanical engineering department chair. "Our goal is to foster innovation and creativity – to graduate engineers with superior design skills, especially skills for developing very complex systems."

During the four-day event, each vehicle will undergo rigorous tests, including top speed, and how well the vehicle accelerates, brakes, maneuvers and climbs a rocky hill.

The last day will test the vehicles' endurance through a four-hour race. The course for the endurance race was designed to try and eliminate 60 percent of the competitors, theoretically leaving only 40 remaining contestants.

The event may also open the doors for students to be recruited by event sponsors and judges, including companies like Honda, Polaris, General Motors and Lockheed Martin.

"I know we will win," Choudhuri said. In some regards, UTEP has already won: hosting the competition, designing the track, competing with two vehicles, bringing hundreds of participants to El Paso, highlighting the campus and its unique learning environment, and shining a light on its progress toward becoming a national research university with a 21st century student demographic.

The Saturday April 26 and Sunday, April 27 events located behind the UTEP Student Recreation Center are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

The two other Baja SAE events this year will take place at the University of Kansas and the University of Illinois.

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