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Winter Baja 2011 from Michigan Tech News
by John Gagnon, Michigan Tech
A moping sky, dreaded cold, and the rumbling of idling engines: that was the backdrop of the Winter Baja that Michigan Tech hosted Saturday at the Lake Linden Park, where a throng of students and observers awaited the start of a two-hour endurance race.
All bundled up, they mingled on an icy staging area that was chock-full of trucks, trailers, competition vehicles, welders and generators.
The anticipation was palpable. When the first of two endurance races (there were two) began at ten o’clock, 16 teams with 37 cars (Tech had three) bounced around a course that was a mile and a half long, including a section studded with moguls, big and small.
The students, who numbered 25 and are members of the Blizzard Baja Enterprise, got some assistance to build this track. The Village of Lake Linden helped out with a plow, and the town's fire department helped out with a tanker truck to ice the course so the snow would hold up.
Tech's vehicle, named the "Widow," was the only one of the three that was scored in the race. The name comes from a black widow spider--wide and close to the ground. Nevertheless the student drivers often went airborne.
"The students run this entire event," said Brett Hamlin, their advisor. "They’re under pressure, under fire, and they do very, very well. They have different skills and interests, but they put together a cohesive team. It's amazing what they pull off every single year."
There's more to this event than making the course and designing and fabricating an off-road vehicle, says Joe DeHaan, event coordinator. The students in the Enterprise have duties that range widely--hunt for sponsors, deal with finances and deadlines, and communicate well with all the visiting teams. This last job is tricky, says DeHaan, who is a fourth-year student in mechanical engineering from Caledonia. "Communication must be consistent, thorough, and up to date," he says, "so you don't have to answer the same question two times."
Tech's Winter Baja, the nation's largest invitational event, is a tune-up for the official SAE Baja competition in the summer. Tech has hosted the Winter Baja for 11 years.
All the teams build their vehicles from scratch, which also involves fashioning components. The one constant: everybody uses a 10-horsepower Briggs & Sratton engine that can power one of these vehicles up to 40 mph.
The students made pit stops to add fuel and change drivers. Early on, one of the Tech vehicles rammed a snow bank and a carbon-fiber strut connecting the wheel with the chassis broke. Students, armed with tools and parts and vigor, had the vehicle back on track in 20 minutes. They had trouble throughout the day with carbon-fiber components that failed.
Evan Kobman, a junior in mechanical engineering from Vassar, was one of Tech's first drivers. He described the course as "pretty tough." He’s been involved in the Enterprise for three semesters and is a team leader for the chassis and rear suspension. "You apply everything you learn in class about stress and strain," he says about building the car. "You don’t want to under build or under engineer."
He put in 8 to 15 hours a week on this project--a lot of it working in the shop, which he loved. "You forget about all your other stresses." Did he ever dream of doing something like this before he came to Tech. "Absolutely, actually," he said. When he was in high school, he visited campus and saw a display of baja vehicles. He told himself, "That's what I want to do when I come up here."
DeHaan says the students begin planning this event at the start of fall semester. They started working with the village in December. They were going gangbusters a few weeks into the spring semester.
DeHaan says the job of coordinator, which involved 12 hours a week, was "stressful, but fun and worth it." He says of the project: "I'm glad I found it. I always did like playing with these kinds of toys."
The hard part was keeping everybody on task. The good part: "seeing everything coming together." The best part: the teamwork—"people to rely on."
Overall, he learned an important lesson: "Start off with a good plan and follow it."
The warm-up shed Saturday was inviting--more than once. Then, by midafternoon, the sun was out. Gone were the biting cold and the glum sky, which one student described as "the UP's perma-cloud." Early on, the students' enthusiasm trumped the weather. Spectators were pleased. Said one who traveled from Lower Michigan to observe his son competing: "A lot of fun and a learning experience, too."
* * * * *
There were three events at the Winter Baja. Two two-hour endurance runs were scored by the number of laps. Here are the results of the endurance races:
Team and Laps
3--Michigan State, 63
4--Sanilac Career Center, 62.7
5--South Dakota School of Mining and Tech, 61.7
6--Northern Illinois, 61
8—Ferris State, 59
9—University of Iowa, 58.8
10—Northern Michigan, 57
11--Ohio Northern, 56
12—Michigan Tech, 54
13--Northwestern Michigan College, 48
15--Western Michigan, 1
Twelve teams then participated in a short race where they negotiated part of the track backwards. Central Michigan won that race, too