Mechanical Engineering students manufactured their own car for Baja competition

A team of Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) students participated in Baja SAE 2023 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with a car that was completely designed and manufactured in their MET Capstone class– an accomplishment unequaled by many four-year programs that participate in this international competition for engineering students.

MET instructor Zane Decker, the Baja team advisor and Capstone instructor, said, “The four team leaders designed a brand-new car with 4-wheel drive, and along with other team members, completely manufactured the car in-house at Cincinnati State. No parts were outsourced!”

Zane added, “Many teams from large universities take several years to design a new car for the Baja event, and rely heavily on outside manufacturers to make parts for their vehicle– so this is a huge accomplishment for the Cincinnati State team.”

Cincy Baja Team members (above) included Alex Flagg, Sam Emmerling, Christan Iaroli, Ed Alander, Denver Nieman, Zane Decker (Advisor), and Demitri Woyak.

Baja SAE, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, took place May 4-7, 2023, and was Cincinnati State’s second time participating in the Baja competition.

Nearly 100 student teams from schools throughout the U.S. as well as Canada, Mexico, and Brazil participated in the 2023 event.

  • The Baja event challenges engineering students to design and build an off-road vehicle able to survive the severe punishment of competition on rough terrain.
  • The student-designed vehicles also are expected to demonstrate qualities needed in a reliable, maintainable, ergonomic, and economic vehicle that could be operated by non-professional weekend off-road enthusiasts.
  • Students teams must work together to discover and resolve technical and business challenges while they design, test, and manufacture their vehicle, and then put it through a series of evaluations and road tests during the 4-day competition.
Cincy Baja car, ready for competition
Cincy Baja car, ready for competition

On the first day of the event, the Cincy Baja team had to pass an engine check conducted by Kohler, the manufacturer of the engine used by all Baja cars this year.

Because of EPA regulations for racing, the Cincy Baja team had to install a new engine provided by Kohler, get it checked, and then prepare the car for a technical inspection the next day– an important step before the car would be permitted to compete in the race on the final day.  

During the tech inspection the team learned they had to add a new part to protect the driver’s head during a rollover accident. After some cutting and welding, the team completed their 4-wheel drive check, which the car passed easily. 

On Saturday morning, the Cincy Baja car passed final tech inspection and the inspectors said they were impressed with the build quality of the car. Then the team passed the brake check (locking-up all 4 wheels from full speed) on the first try and the team was qualified to compete in events that tested the car’s acceleration, maneuverability, and suspension and traction.

  • The Cincy Baja team started slowly, placing 49th overall in Acceleration, but in the next event– pulling a sled for a distance of 72 feet– the team finished 4th overall.
  • In the Maneuverability event, which required driving through mud pits filled with ankle-deep water, the car achieved 13th place overall, on the second try.
  • The Suspension and Traction course was challenging– only a few cars finished the event. The Cincy Baja car was near the finish when it got stuck on huge tires, requiring a tow vehicle to rescue the car. Despite the problems, the Cincy Baja team finished 12th overall in the event.
  • However, a broken CV (constant velocity) joint, a part responsible for distributing power from the vehicle’s transmission to its drive wheel, had to be repaired to be ready for the final event. After disassembly, the team discovered that repairing the CV was not an option, and a direct replacement was not available. A trip to an auto parts store was followed by a lot of cutting and welding, and the team was able to get the car running again by the 8 p.m. deadline.
Cincy Baja car jumping over a muddy hazard

The final event, a 4-hour long Endurance race, started with all 100 cars on the track. While the Cincy Baja car was not the fastest, it handled all of the obstacles.

At Lap 5, the CState driver noticed a steering problem, so the car pulled into the pits and replaced a critical steering bolt that was deforming under the stress of the race.

Then the car completed a few more laps before the driver realized the rear axle had broken, requiring a tow all the way back to the paddocks to do some welding on the axle. After this repair, the Cincy Baja car got back in the race and completed the event, crossing the finish line with 23 laps total, earning a very respectable 24th place in the endurance race despite the two hours total needed to work on repairs.

With all scores added up, the Cincinnati State team finished in 32nd place, placing ahead of teams from Ohio University (39th), the University of Cincinnati (60th), Northern Kentucky University (66th), Wright State University (73rd), and many other four-year schools.

Zane said, “This group of students worked together as a team for the past year and showed exceptional professionalism, skill, and quality of work, which made them able to outperform many 4-year schools with larger teams, and larger budgets.”

Zane added, “I’m impressed with the engineering and manufacturing skills of our students and very excited for the future of our Cincy Baja team!”

(Photos and reporting provided by Zane Decker)