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ODU Baja Racer Team Gets Ready for International Competition in Wisconsin

For four years, a team of mechanical engineering students from Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology has worked to perfect its Baja racer.

It's a car that students build, basically from scratch, to test out applied mechanical engineering principles on a one-person off-road vehicle.

The ODU team has entered contests across North America, recently finishing in the top 40 against stiff, worldwide competition.

Blake Bristol, who graduated from ODU in December 2008 and now works at Dominion Virginia Power, continues to lead the team, which is off again to the latest Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) contest in Burlington, Wisc. The University of Wisconsin is hosting the June 11-14 event.

Bristol said the contest started out as a way for him to enjoy his "gear head" impulses.

"As time passed, it has become more of a challenge to design and build a Baja that performs better than other university teams," Bristol said.

"It's very rewarding to be able to fabricate a mobile vehicle from just a pile of tubes and a box of parts."

Bristol added that knowing their vehicle's humble roots, it makes it extra satisfying "to actually see it drive under its own power, because as a team, we know we built a quality Baja through our hard work."

And Bristol said the competition's value is in seeing how their ideas match up with other Baja teams from around the world. "The competition allows everyone to meet, and trade ideas for future engineered vehicles."

In the Baja racer contests, every team gets sent a standard engine, which forms the guts of their vehicle. The ODU team's adviser, mechanical engineering Assistant Professo Abdelmageed Elmustafa, said the teams construct the vehicle around the engine, working to build an efficient, durable, aerodynamic machine.

It needs to be durable because it goes through a veritable torture test at the Baja SAE contests.

Among the tests the vehicle is subjected to are the Mud Bog, Hitch Pull, maneuverability and acceleration tests, design judging, and the all-important endurance event, an off-road competition that each of the Baja racers enters.

The ODU team includes mechanical engineering junior-year students Tyler Shaner and James Hargraves, and volunteer adviser Jeremy Owen, who is an ODU ME grad.

The team has been putting in long hours in the ODU Motorsports Lab, making final adjustments to their vehicle before taking it on the road.

Bristol said the design phase took a great deal of time this year, "which directly affected our fabrication dates."

This year's Baja racer has a completely different look than previous ODU entries in the Baja SAE contests.

"We were able to substantially decrease the size of the car, making it lighter and more agile in racing against other teams," Bristol said. "If all goes as planned, the appearance and performance of this year's Baja will greatly raise awareness of the ODU name in SAE collegiate competitions."

Elmustafa said exposure for the school is part of the benefit of ODU's participation in the Baja racer competitions.

"It's also great hands-on experience for the students. They get to put the mechanical engineering concepts they learn about into action, by building something with their own hands," he said.

This article was posted on: June 1, 2009

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