College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

It’s all about reliability for this year’s Iowa State Baja racing team

Photo by Bob Elbert
Photo by Bob Elbert
Photo by Bob Elbert

Students swarmed the Baja SAE garage last week, assembling their mini off-road racer and manufacturing spare parts for their two summer races.

“The big thing we tried to address this year was reliability,” said Scott Brehm, a graduating senior from Rickardsville who’s a mechanical engineering major and the technical director of Iowa State’s Baja SAE team.

The team will be driving its 10-horsepower, off-road racer during a May 16-19 competition in Bellingham, Wash., and a June 6-9 competition in Rochester, N.Y. The competitions are part of the Baja SAE Series for student-designed and student-built machines. The competitions are sponsored by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

There’s good reason for the team’s focus on reliability. Last year, the team finished 17th in its first competition and 69th in its second.

The difference?

“In the second competition, there were a lot of failures,” Brehm said.

There were suspension failures. Transmission failures. Shock failures.

And so team members are making a lot of changes.

Levi Benning, a junior from Plainfield who’s studying agricultural systems technology, designed and machined an aluminum transmission case to accept new gears manufactured from stronger steel. His handiwork features smooth lines rather than sharp angles. And that eliminates some of the stress points on the parts.

Hans Schaeffer, a sophomore in mechanical engineering from Moline, Ill., has been working to improve the racer’s rear suspension. He’s changed the geometry to fix camber and toe alignment problems. He’s also increased suspension travel, switched hubs and decreased vehicle roll through corners.

“I’ve spent numerous hours doing this,” Schaeffer said. “This has been a big learning curve for me, but it has been a lot of fun.”

Even with all those changes to their Baja racer, the students know a few parts are going to fail – there are just too many bumps and jumps in off-road racing. So team members have been manufacturing spares.

Ali Daly, a junior from Peosta, and Alex Schlarmann, a senior from Worthington, spent a recent afternoon making extra suspension pieces.

“A couple of the pieces failed last year,” Daly said. “We had to fix them on fly, so we’re trying to make spare parts this year.”

All that attention to building a more reliable racer, plus some practice runs outside their campus garage, has team members looking forward to competition.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Brehm said. “But I think we’re in good shape.”