Baja wins big

The Baja Racing team, which designs and manufactures a new off-road race vehicle every season, won its second consecutive overall 1st place finish and the Mike Schmidt Memorial Award, the season’s highest honor.

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The U-M Baja Racing Team made huge waves this season. Along with their second consecutive overall 1st place finish, they also received the season’s highest honor, the Mike Schmidt Memorial Award. This award is given to the team with the highest cumulative points between three competitions. As if that wasn’t enough, at the California race the team broke the record for the most points ever earned at a Baja SAE event, scoring 1007/1000.

The Baja Racing team designs and manufactures a new off-road race vehicle every season. Team members machine parts, fabricate molds and assemble the new car, all in preparation for three major competitions put on by SAE International. This year the students raced in Tennessee, California, and finally at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This year, two EECS students served in leadership positions: Zechariah Schneider, treasurer, and Shivani Shah, electric lead.

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Baja members, including EECS students Shivani Shah and Zechariah Schneider, work to overcome a car failure at the Tennessee competition.

Beyond the overall ranking, this season was a success for many individual tests and challenges. The team took first place in acceleration, hill climb, design, overall dynamics, and endurance. They did this all in spite of a slow start during the first competition in Tennessee, where they experienced some unforeseen system failures. That first race put them in fourth place out of 100 teams.

“The first competition was one of the most stressful in the recent past,” says Shivani. “But despite that, the team worked really hard to address all the issues we saw.”

The second race in California gave the students a chance to test the car more extensively. It paid off – from there on out, the first place finishes started coming in fast, including a notorious hill-climbing competition that only two teams even managed to finish. This all culminated in their record-setting final score for that competition. That left them tied with their two closest competitors for the final competition in Rochester. So closely tied, in fact, that 3 laps in the final race of the year determined the final outcome for the whole season.

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“As soon as I saw us cross the finish line first, I was ecstatic,” Zechariah says. “Most of the upperclassmen put in over forty hours a week into the car, so seeing all of that work end up in a second consecutive national championship is a feeling that’s really hard to put into words.”

That final race turned out especially stressful for the endurance driver, Cal, who had to go all the way to the first pit stop (over an hour of driving) without working brakes.

“Explaining to Cal that he couldn’t stop until the first pit was stressful,” Zechariah says, “but that’s one of my favorite moments of the last three years.”

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Left: EE student Shivani inspects at a competition. Right: CS student Zechariah Schneider looks on during an endurance test.

This year was a major year for car redesigns – every component saw a change except the engine and shocks. The team set weight reduction as a priority, and they succeeded in creating the lightest car the team has ever used at just 275 pounds.

Both Zechariah and Shivani will be seniors this year and continuing as officers on the team – Zechariah as head of logistics, and Shivani as head of testing. Both are thrilled to be able to continue their work with Baja.

“This year, we have some big shoes to fill!” says Shivani. “We have already begun design of next year’s vehicle and have ideas of what we can improve. I never want to miss a single milestone.”

Shivani is interning at Microsoft in Seattle, where she will be working on new APIs for the XBox Kinect, and Zechariah is at Ford, working on autonomous vehicles. Four graduating seniors from Baja will be going on to SpaceX, Tesla, and GM for full-time employment.

August 2, 2016