BY CECELIA ORWIG
Imagine driving a car designed and built by your classmates.
The probability of you cruising O Street in car made by the man or woman sitting next to you in class is slim – but not impossible.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Mini Baja team has transformed this thought into reality since 1996, the year it joined the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Mini Baja tournament.
In the past, the team consisted of as many as 25 undergraduate students from multiple disciplines of engineering.
This year, however, the team boasts 44 participants.
Brent Wilson, research assistant professor for mechanical engineering, is the team’s adviser.
Each school in the mini baja competition is provided a 10-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine, donated by Briggs & Stratton Corporation. The rest of the vehicle must be financed, machined and assembled by a team.
The UNL team spends $4,000 to $5,000 on its vehicle, including travel expenses.
Members earn this through fundraisers and sponsorship drives. Thanks to generous local businesses, the team is able to use a Honda ATV transmission, and Kawasaki usually donates the tires and rims.
Justin Pflanz, the team’s president, said students assemble all basic parts, including the pedals. The UNL team uses aluminum-chrome tubing for the cage, which Pflanz said is a standard for the organization.
The students also design the parts using Solid Works. Then they use cosmos for finite element analysis, which Pflanz said “provides a color-coded map of forces” that act on the part.
The students then know the vehicle’s weakest points and how to strengthen them for the competition.
They divide into three groups and work on a specific part of the design — front, rear and cage. The groups work independently until late in the fall semester.
Think the Mini Baja team is merely a small faction of car-crazy engineers?
More than 300 teams compete in the worldwide contest. Most notably, Brazil and Canada offer competing teams.
Each school enters only one team. Teams enter their all-terrain vehicles in a series of tests, including a hill climb, a rock climb, acceleration, maneuvering and agility, and the final endurance race.
A different school hosts the competition each year. The 2006 Midwest regional will be held in Milwaukee, Wis., and the 2006 West regional will be held in Portland, Ore., and Washougal, Wash.
Before competitions, UNL Mini Baja team members can take the vehicle through the field tests.
For the trials, drivers are chosen first by their interest and availability to travel, followed by a point system based on attendance at weekly meetings and special events.
Team members’ skills and attributes also are a factor. As a rule of thumb, Pflanz said, “you want your smallest guy for the acceleration contest.”
UNL earned seventh place, its highest overall rank, in 2001. More notably, the UNL Mini Baja has never failed the endurance race, being one of 50 or more vehicles to survive the final contest each year.