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ODU Baja Racer Team Sticks To It After Mishap Last Year; Finishes Strongly This Year

Last year, entering the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition in Wisconsin couldn't have been more of a letdown for the ODU team.

"Four seconds," said James Hargraves, a rising senior majoring in mechanical engineering technology from Chester, Va. "We snapped a gear in our drivetrain in four seconds. It was really, incredibly frustrating. It was two days of driving for four seconds worth of competition."

But Hargraves is no quitter. He and colleague Tyler Shaner, also a mechanical engineering senior-to-be from Chester, stuck it out for another year with the Baja SAE competition. And their persistence was rewarded.

In late spring, the ODU Baja SAE team finished 44th out of 104 teams in the national competition in Greenville, S.C.

"It's stressful as team leader. But overall it was a successful event," Hargraves said. "It was a really great experience. We were happy with how we finished, considering we faced such strong competition."

And Hargraves, Shaner and the other ODU team members - Danny Moffett, a mechanical engineering student from Woodbridge, Va., and Chris Cameron, a mechanical engineering student from Chesapeake - intend to continue to apply what they learned through the upcoming school year, and seek a slot in next year's Baja SAE contest with a goal of finishing even higher.

ODU has had a Baja SAE team for five years now. The car, basically built from scratch, is used to test out applied mechanical engineering principles on a one-person, off-road vehicle.

In the Baja racer contests, every team gets sent a standard engine for their vehicle. The ODU team's adviser Abdelmageed Elmustafa, assistant professor in mechanical engineering, 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 vehicle has been constructed in the ODU Motorsports Lab, meaning the students that are part of the team put in long hours aside from their studies to participate in the competition. But Hargraves said the effort is worth it.

"We learned a lot. We made some improvements in the design of the vehicle, and we're excited for next year's competition already," he said.

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: July 1, 2010

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