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Sun Devil Motorsports team cruises past competition

July 30, 2013

The Sun Devil Motorsports Team was covered with mud and exhausted after 14-hour days of pure automotive engineering and competition at this year’s Baja Society of Automotive Engineers competition in Billingham, Wash. Instead of celebrating their high-ranking finish, team members were planning next year’s Baja design only hours after the competition had ended. Club mentor and College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) senior lecturer James Contes says this is not unusual behavior for these motivated students and they are as excited as ever to reach the top.

The Sun Devil Motorsports team, a student club organization at CTI on the Polytechnic campus, competed against 86 other teams in the national competition to determine the Baja car with the best design and build. Every year, collegiate automotive clubs enter to compete in any of the three national competitions that test the design, speed, maneuverability and endurance of a student-manufactured Baja car – a frame-only vehicle used for off-roading and high adventure activity.

Run by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the competition is designed to simulate real-world engineering practices and the challenges that come with everyday automotive problems. Student teams have to complete a project from start to finish, beginning with the initial design and ending with a fully tested Baja car ready for racing.

Contes says the competition mirrors what CTI teaches students everyday: to learn through making and real-world innovation.

“The competition is set up to take students through industry-standard practices,” Contes said. “Having opportunities like this for students makes the transition to industry that much easier. When they graduate, they are prepared to take on challenges that every engineer faces when seeing a project through from beginning to end.”

The team’s efforts are made possible by the state-of-the-art equipment available for student use in the engineering program at CTI.

“We have one of the best engineering labs in the state, if not the best one,” Contes said. “CTI has been fitted with the equipment to do all of the hands-on work that is so critical to engineering. These guys go from laying out a design on their laptops to cutting the materials and bending, welding, painting, testing and presenting them. It’s a total education made possible by the facilities in our program.”

The Sun Devil Motorsports team placed first out of all Arizona colleges. Overall, the team placed 17th out of 87 teams, compared to last year’s ranking of 37th place.

The competition is broken up into five events to test the overall design of each Baja. These events consist of a four-hour endurance race, an acceleration race, a hill climb, a maneuverability test and a rock crawl. Students also give an engineering and sales presentation to a panel of judges, just as they would if they manufactured a vehicle in the industry.

Among the requirements for enrollment in the competition is the use of a 10-horsepower engine, given to all teams by Briggs & Stratton Corporation. This levels the playing field for all teams and creates a unique engineering design test. Cars must also pass a strict specification test regarding the design and manufacturing.

Funding for manufacturing the team's Baja comes from community donations, sponsorships and assistance from ASU. Because high rankings in the competition relate to more industry sponsorships, Contes hopes for the team to reach first place next year, in order to be fully funded through sponsorships.

Contes and other faculty are beginning the preliminary planning of creating a test track south of the Polytechnic campus. Although this plan has yet to be finalized, Contes sees it as a critical component of the team’s success.

“The key to manufacturing a great vehicle is testing it and seeing where the weaknesses are. Once we have a test track, we will have an advantage that not many other universities have, and it will provide all students with a place to test their designs,” Contes said.

Because the Baja design and competition requires so much interdisciplinary interaction, Contes invites students of all majors on the Polytechnic campus to join Polytechnic’s Society of Automotive Engineers club and add to the team’s overall success.

“Not only are we always accepting mechanical engineering students, but we need electrical engineers, manufacturing engineers, entrepreneurship majors – any major can be of assistance,” he said. “The competition really does lend itself to cross-major interaction and we want other students, male and female, to get involved.”

Written by Sydney B. Donaldson