Building a better Baja

Tracy Kalytiak
Devon Jones, Chris Burgess, Josh Tempel, Marcus Dueñez and Mariusz Sawicki pose with their Baja car frame at the UAA Design Studio.
Philip Hall
UAA machinist Corbin Rowe used a lathe and other equipment at University Lake Annex to machine parts UAA’s Baja team designed.
Philip Hall

Zachary Garcia clicked a file on his computer screen, displaying a three-dimensional image of two mechanical gadgets.


“I’ve invested nearly 50 hours on this,” the UAA engineering student said of the gadgets—virtual versions of high-carbon steel parts destined for a single-seat dune buggy-like off-road vehicle he and others on UAA’s Baja team are creating. “This part holds the caliper on. I’m trying to figure out how to bolt it onto the bearing carrier, here, which involves complicated cuts. We can do it, but it takes time.”


Every second counts, now, because the finished Baja vehicle must be ready April 3 to be shipped to El Paso, Texas, for the Baja SAE competition—one of three SAE International Collegiate Design Series competitions scheduled this spring in the U.S.  The Baja showdown is scheduled for April 24-27 at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Teams from universities all over the world compete every year, testing their cars on outdoor tracks and challenges to see which Bajas are the fastest, strongest, most maneuverable, most innovative.


Josh Tempel and Josh Lazaro lead UAA’s Baja team of mechanical and electrical engineering students. The other Baja team members are Sivisko Bernard, Chris Burgess, Taryn Byrd, Marcus Dueñez, Zachary Garcia, Devon Jones, Halvor Norris, Lowell Perry, Buck Polya, Mariusz Sawicki and Frazer Tee.


Corbin Rowe, UAA’s machinist, isn’t a member of the Baja team but he performs a crucial task: translating the students’ SolidWorks renderings into steel and aluminum Baja parts using a manual mill, three-axis computer numeric control mill, lathe and other equipment housed in a machine shop a few steps away from the computer lab at UAA’s University Lake Annex.


“We’ve been lucky to have a machinist on UAA’s staff here for us to ask questions,” Zachary said. “That’s been 50 percent of my learning experience. In school, you spend so much time on computers, in virtual reality or crunching numbers. But you have to make sure you designed a part that’s possible to machine, that it will work in the real world.”


UAA has raced four times at previous Baja SAE annual competitions. This year’s UAA Baja team has a $25,000 budget, which includes the cost of materials, labor, shipping of the Baja car and transporting the team to El Paso. Briggs & Stratton donates 10-horsepower, four-cycle, air-cooled stock engines to every Baja participant. The team buys complicated components that would take too much time to custom make, such as brake calipers, which must be specially machined to withstand pressures within and forces passing through them, and the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which uses a complex system of springs and weights to transfer the engine’s output power to the transaxle.


“These things are heavily engineered by outside companies and it’s in our best interest to focus on custom engineering what we think we can get done in the limited amount of time we have,” Zachary said.


Local businesses have donated resources. Greer Tank and Welding Inc. used their water-jet cutting technology to cut out brackets and other Baja parts, for free. Superior Machine & Welding provided aluminum for the Baja team. “If we were to buy it, it could cost upwards of $200,” Zachary said. Other sponsors include UAA School of Engineering, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), UAA Club Council, UAA Concert Board, BP, UAA Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, Carlile Transportation Systems, AMC Engineers, Stinebaugh & Company, Larson Properties, Schafer Gearworks, Polaris, A2D Sledworks, Beadedstream, P3 Forge, Alaska Power Sports/Marita Sea & Ski, Action Sign & Graphics and Schlumberger Oilfield Services. JoAnna Tomuro, college recruiting advisor for BP Alaska, says the Baja project directly aligns with BP’s campus strategy for UAA.

“We like to support student professional associations or projects where students get to take their academic learning and put it into practical application,” she wrote. “UAA’s Baja Team is a great mix of engineering students who have done a fabulous job at representing UAA and Alaska in competition!”


To read more about UAA's Baja team, click here.


Tracy Kalytiak
Green and Gold News University of Alaska Anchorage