As rocky racing turns to mud runs, Iowa State Baja Team expects more success

Kansas checkers

Iowa State's Baja Team takes the checkered flag from the mascot of Pittsburg State University during a May competition in Kansas. Larger image. More pictures below. Photo by the ISU Baja SAE Team.

6-10-14 Update: It was a brutal race course near Peoria, Ill., just full of ruts, logs, rocks and jumps. The last off-road event of the 2014 Baja SAE Series featured “the most abusive course of the year,” said Andrew Tauke, the technical director of Iowa State’s Baja SAE Team. The Illinois competition was the final event of the three-race season. After winning the season’s first two endurance races, the Iowa State team was going for a sweep. But over the four-hour race, the course beat up the Cyclone racer: a flat tire, broken tie rods, failed steering knuckles. “There were quite a few broken parts, but we still ended up 15th in endurance,” Tauke said. Overall, after all the presentations and racing events, the team finished the Peoria event outside the top 10. That was a disappointing end to a season that featured two endurance wins and best-ever overall finishes of third and seventh. “This was the first time we went to all three competitions,” Tauke said. “This was the longest and hardest we’ve ever run one of these cars. Hopefully, next year the team will decide to go to all three races and will learn from this year.”


5-27-14 Update: Somehow, the off-road racer built by Iowa State student-engineers held together through the end of the four-hour endurance race, earning the Baja Team its second checkered flag of the season and its best-ever overall finish. Sometime in the last quarter of the race, the rough, muddy racing sheared tubes used to repair damage from the team’s first endurance win in Texas. “The only things holding the car together were the rear suspension, one bolt and the fuel line,” said Andrew Tauke, the team’s technical director. But driver Erik Rasmussen was able to drive hard to the finish. And that win helped secure a third-place overall finish among the 95 teams registered for the competition in Kansas. Next up are some heavy repairs in advance of the June 4-7 competition in Illinois. “I’m very happy with our finish,” Tauke said, “and I’m really looking forward to Peoria. We’re going for the sweep.”  




AMES, Iowa – Iowa State’s off-road racers already have a big win to their credit.

Last month, competing over a dusty course at the University of Texas at El Paso, the Baja team bounced to a frame-bending-but-not-breaking win in the four-hour endurance race. That helped the team move up to seventh overall (among 96 registered teams from as far away as Egypt, India and South Korea).

Andrew Tauke, a senior from De Soto majoring in industrial technology and the team’s technical director, said this year’s team is making a major commitment to a big and successful season.

For the first time, the team is racing all three off-road events sponsored by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers. The events feature mini Baja racers designed and built by teams of college students. And this year’s calendar, in addition to last month’s race in Texas, features events in Kansas (May 22-25) and Illinois (June 4-7).

“We decided we weren’t going to be mediocre,” Tauke said. “We wanted to win.”

So, a few years back, the team entered two races instead of one. Last year the team’s results started trending up, going from 37th after rear suspension problems to 10th after repairs.

“Now the goal is to make it to all three races and be that competitive team,” Tauke said.

There’s evidence that’s happening: There are the two big plaques from Texas and Tauke overheard a spectator say it was no surprise Iowa State was leading the Texas endurance race.

So what makes this year’s racer a better machine?

Tauke said the team built on the top-10 success of last year’s car, keeping what worked and redesigning what didn’t. The biggest change was a thicker 1020 steel frame with better shock mounts that eliminated the weight of reinforcing tubes and welds.

And Joel Newton, a May graduate from West Des Moines who studied mechanical engineering, pointed to the compact transmission bolted to the back of the 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine.

“Our transmission is a notch above the rest,” he said. “It’s so compact. We go to competitions and we see teams with cases three or four times bigger. To get it to something this small and light is pretty remarkable.”

Then Tauke and Newton explained how a new ventilation system is winning design points and cooling the car’s drivetrain.

But team members aren’t thinking top finishes in dusty Texas means top finishes in the muddy Midwest. They’ll make repairs and improvements until they roll up to the next starting line.

“I just like to see improvement,” Newton said. “As an engineer, that’s what we try to do. An engineer wants to see efficiencies. We don’t live by the rule, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ There’s always something that can be improved.”


Baja driver

Driver Erik Rasmussen cools off after another endurance win for Iowa State's Baja Team. Larger photo. Photo by the ISU Baja SAE Team.


Baja air

Iowa State's Baja racer heads for a rough landing during a race in Kansas. Larger image. Photo by the Iowa State Baja SAE Team.



Iowa State's Baja racer kicks up West Texas dust during an April competition. Larger image. Photo by the Iowa State Baja SAE Team.



Iowa State's mini Baja racer won the four-hour endurance contest in El Paso, Texas. Larger image. Photo by the Iowa State Baja SAE Team.