Margo Baker, 719-262-3439

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO Students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will race May 8-10 in the Society of Automotive Engineer’s Mini-Baja West competition.

More than 100 colleges and universities will compete with student-designed and manufactured off-road vehicles at the event, held in Provo, Utah. The vehicles participate in design, safety and cost evaluations as well as a wide range of off-road races that test the entries for performance and endurance.

“I would say that we probably learn more doing this than we do in class,” said Jason Beech, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at CU-Colorado Springs. “It’s more of an applied experience. It’s taking the theory and making it work and realizing all of the things that the theory conveniently leaves out.”

All cars must be engineered to meet criteria set by SAE. Each team’s goal is to design a rugged, single-seat recreational vehicle that would be safe and fun to drive for an average weekend enthusiast. SAE requires that the manufacturing cost of the vehicle be less than $3,000, based on a production volume of 4,000 units per year.

The SAE program at UCCS is in its third year and planning began on the current car in June. The team built and designed every aspect of the vehicle, and student drivers will race the car in competition.

Club members raised about $10,000 to pay for the parts and travel to the contest. Fund-raising activities incorporated design reviews of the car from outside companies and other entities allowing students to practice presentation and networking skills.

Major contributors included Ingersoll-Rand Schlage, Whistler Bearing and Phil Long Ford.

“Back in June, we set our goal as being in the top 20 percent, and I honestly see that happening barring unforeseen circumstances,” said Kevin Tanner, third-year mechanical engineering student and current SAE chapter president at CU-Colorado Springs. “We have a very competitive car this year.”

According to Beech and Tanner, the top 25 percent of the competing cars are about equal in terms of design and capability. Rankings beyond depend on driver skill and luck.

The students are enthusiastic about the prospect of the car placing in the top 20 percent and point out that this would be a significant achievement for the campus. Many of the schools competing in May have student bodies three to four times larger than CU-Colorado Springs’ 7,400 students.

“Many of the Engineering Department advisors have come up to me and said that just having SAE here attracts students,” said Beech. “Besides an opportunity to do real engineering work it’s a selling point for the school.”

All work performed on the Mini-Baja car is extracurricular, and students and staff advisors receive no credit or compensation for time spent putting the vehicle together.

CU-Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in northeast Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The university offers 25 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s and two doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls more than 7,400 students annually.