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


Iowa State's Baja SAE Team competes in Bellingham, Wash. Larger photo. Photo by Iowa State's Baja SAE Team.

6-13-13 update: A change of 1.3 inches made all the difference for Iowa State’s Baja SAE Team. To fix problems with the rear axle connections on its off-road racer, the team’s student-engineers tried lowering the transmission by a little more than an inch. And when the students showed up for their second – and final – competition of the summer in Rochester, N.Y., they finally had the reliability they’ve been working to build into their car. The result was a strong, top-ten performance over a muddy, soggy race course. “We only had one hiccup,” said Scott Brehm, the team’s technical director. “We hit a water puddle and our Briggs & Stratton engine sucked in water and stalled.” Team members quickly built a splash guard for the engine and went back to racing. Their car ran to a 13th-place finish in the crucial, four-hour endurance race. That – combined with strong marks in suspension and traction and in design – produced an overall finish of 10th among 88 ranked cars. “After that first competition, we were all slightly disappointed,” Brehm said. “But it was good knowing we had another chance to get everything worked out.”


5-22-13 update: On and off track, Iowa State’s Baja SAE Team was scoring very well heading to the final event of the May 16-19 competition in Bellingham, Wash. And when that four-hour endurance race started, the team was passing cars. But then rear suspension problems stopped everything. When the wheels were down and drooped, the axle connections failed, said Scott Brehm, the team’s technical director. The team was able to make some repairs, but the race for big points was lost. Iowa State dropped to 37th of 72 teams. Brehm thinks the problem can be fixed by adjusting suspension geometry before next month’s competition in New York. “We’re very impressed with the car in all other aspects,” he said. “This is kind of a letdown, but it’s more fuel for the next competition.”


AMES, Iowa – 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.”


Baja SAE

Iowa State's Baja SAE Team is ready to race the No. 19 car this week in Washington and next month in New York. Larger photo. Photo by Cyclone Racing.