Baja Team Puts Theory to the Test

Baja Team Puts Theory to the Test
Team members discuss design challenges for this year's Baja car.

For more than a decade, Cal Poly Pomona has participated in the mini Baja racing competition, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, and earned a reputation for being the top California team.

“We're always a top 10 team,” says professor and team advisor Clifford Stover. He adds that at a recent SAE conference in Detroit, he was told that the Cal Poly Pomona Baja team is considered one of the preeminent American teams.

The off-road racing contest enables engineering students to take the techniques they have acquired and use them in a real-world project. For the competition, teams from around the country build a prototype Baja car for a fictitious company. During the competition, the cars are judged on design, safety, cost, a sales presentation, maneuverability, acceleration, hill climb and a four-hour endurance race. A combined score for all of these events determines the overall winner.

In 2008, Cal Poly Pomona captured the overall first place prize in Springfield, Ill. This year, it defended the title at the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center in Oregon and at the Washougal MX Park in Washington. The team finished ninth out of 85 competitors after a throttle cable problem forced the car into the pits for almost nine laps during the endurance race.

The Baja SAE Team consists of 25 students, from freshmen to seniors, from mechanical engineering, engineering technology, environmental design and marketing. It is a strong sense of collaboration and motivation that has enabled the group to reach the pinnacles of success.

“It really is a team effort,” Stover says. “We have everybody from marketing to engineering to communications working together.” The formula for working together has been so successful, in fact, that Stover has had business people from off campus “asking how we run the team because they want to learn how to use that framework in an industrial environment.” The Baja experience, he adds, will enable Cal Poly Pomona's students to successfully compete not only on the Baja course but also in jobs after graduation.

That sentiment is echoed by team captain Kyle Krause. “In the engineering industry, most projects are so complex that it is impossible for one person to do the entire thing. This project is great because it prepares us for the real world to work in a team environment and also the humility of seeing that sometimes your design isn't necessarily the best way to accomplish the goal.”

Krause notes that another benefit of the team is “the pooling of the individual talents of the members. For example, we have two welders on the 16-person team, but also a member who has bodywork and painting experience, a member who actually drives off-road race trucks, and a couple of members who have experience working with sheet metal. “The more members that we have, the greater our resource pool and the better the finished product turns out.”

From computers to horses, cars to diplomacy, co-curricular activities at Cal Poly Pomona help students develop important qualities, such as leadership, discipline and self confidence. Most important, students learn to work successfully with a team. This article is the part of a series that spotlights teamwork in action at Cal Poly Pomona.