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Mini-Baja Team Takes High Hopes To Nationals

SOCORRO, N.M. June 10, 2009 – Ten thousand hours of New Mexico Tech engineering labor will be put to the test this week.

A dozen New Mexico Tech mechanical engineering students are headed to Burlington, Wisc., for the annual Collegiate Mini-Baja Trials.
Led by senior Aaron Dawson, the Mini-Baja team will be disappointed with anything less than a top 10 finish in the event where they finished 17th out of 250 teams last year.

The New Mexico Tech Mini-Baja team is (from left) Daniel Vickers, Matt Tibbetts, Dustin Schraeder, advisor Jake Scarborough, David Gerrells, Michael Belvin, Matt O'Keeffe, instructor Dr. Warren Ostergren, Rick Holets, mechanical engineering professor Dr. Ashok Ghosh, Nathan Cunninghamm and technical advisor Hollis Dinwiddie. Seated are team leader Aaron Dawson and team supporter Anjik Ghosh. Not pictured are team members Rick Garner, Nick Karler and Derek Nieman and volunteer Scott Gagan.

The Tech students proved last year that they can compete along side well-funded teams from larger universities, such as Michigan, Oregon State, Purdue, Northeastern, Villanova, Arkansas and many others.

Dawson said that the 12 team members put in long hours beginning last June to prepare their four-wheel drive off-road vehicle for this competition. The team functions as part of the Senior Design Clinic and Junior Design Clinic classes. Course instructor Dr. Warren

Ostergren said the 10,000 hours of labor are equal to $1 million of industrial engineering costs.

“Don’t send me the bill,” he told the team as they made final preparations to leave Socorro on Monday.

Team members include Michael Belvin, Nathan Cunningham, Aaron Dawson, Rick Garner, David Gerrells, Rick Holets, Nick Karler, Matt O’Keeffe, Derek Nieman, Dustin Schraeder, Matt Tibbetts and Daniel Vickers. Freshman Scott Gagan was on the team as a volunteer.
The team spent last summer and the fall 2008 semester re-designing the vehicle, focusing on reverse-engineering a new transmission, a new frame and more durable CV shafts. The team spent significant time on the CV shafts, which failed repeatedly during the May 2008 competition. The spring 2009 semester was spent mostly in the workshop fabricating parts and assembling the vehicle.

“They know where they had problems and they made a lot of major changes in their design,” Ostergren said. “They took on more changes than previous teams, in terms of design changes they wanted to make. For me, it was a question about whether they could get it all done. And they did.”

Hollis Dinwiddie, a former team member and now an engineer at the NRAO in Socorro, served as the team’s technical advisor throughout the design process.

This year’s vehicle includes a six-speed manual transmission that the team basically built. They dismantled a motorcycle transmission and re-built one to their specifications, Dawson said.

The team divided into committees to work on various components, including the drive train, steering, suspension and frame. Dawson said the team worked well together with the ultimate goal of making a name for New Mexico Tech at the national event.

“This is a brand new car,” Dawson said. “We redesigned the frame, the suspension, the drive train … everything. We did quite a bit of work on the CV shafts; that was one of our main design projects.”

Over four days, each mini-Baja team will be judged in nine areas, plus two technical inspections. On Thursday, June 11, the teams will go through their first inspection, with judges making sure each vehicle complies with all the specifications. The second technical inspection is Friday, as are three static events and the acceleration test.

“The first two days are the toughest,” Dawson said. “We’ve read the rules hundreds of times and gone through the inspection sheets many times.”

The static events include a cost evaluation, design judging and an oral design presentation. The team was successful in finding sponsorships for the vehicle. Sponsors include First State Bank, Forge Master, Zero Max and NAPA Racing.

Saturday’s events include four more dynamic tests: maneuverability, traction and suspension testing, the tractor pull and a mud bog.

For those vehicles that survive the first three days of testing, Sunday is the big event – the endurance race. Teams will race around an off-road course for four hours, with a large portion of the event based on the number of laps completed.

The team designed the vehicle to perform well in all categories – speed, strength, maneuverability and durability.

“We tried to cater to everything,” Dawson said. “I think we have a really good chance at getting into the top 10.”

For the endurance race, the New Mexico Tech team has yet to decide who will drive. Those ready to take seat-time include Belvin, Dawson, Gerrells, Holets and Tibbetts.

The vehicle has only been subjected to about 10 hours of testing, including only one hour of off-road endurance driving. They’re saving the real abuse for the competition.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich