Our first competition for the 2013 Baja SAE series took place at Tennessee Tech University April 18-21. We set off with 6 team members and made the long drive from Kingston, ON to Cookeville, TN with a van and 26′ box truck with the Baja car and all of our tools.
We arrived a little later than we would have liked, there already being a huge line for Briggs and Stratton engine check. We made it through engine check Friday morning, putting us behind for Tech inspection, but we spent the time preparing for design. Design went well, only narrowly missing out on design finals. On our way to Tech we were informed by another team that our air filter was outside of our roll-cage and that many teams were being called for the same issue. We got the help of the guys from RIT to weld on a new frame member and quickly got back into the Tech line. We were then informed that we were missing a required triangulating member to the bottom corners of the firewall. This was a surprise to us as our 2010 and 2011 frame contained the same geometry in this area, so we made another quick frame mod – thanks again to RIT – and made it through Tech mid-morning on Friday. We headed straight to Brake Test and after 2 attempts achieved our required 4 wheel lock.
Finally through Engine, Tech and Brakes we were ready to race! We headed straight to acceleration and put down 2 decent acceleration runs – somewhere in the top third to half of the pack where our car always sits. Happy with this performance we headed to the practice track to make a few turns, made a couple adjustments and headed to Suspension and Traction where the line was shortest. This is where everything took a turn for the worst.
The first run we made it around 1/3 of the track until getting stuck in a ditch on an off camber turn at the bottom of a hill. It was a fairly hard impact with the ditch, but everything seemed in order. Second run was worse. As the car travelled down the course it seemed to have some larger than normal camber in the rear wheels. As it passed through the ditch from the first lap it was evident that there was something definitely wrong and a little further it was clear that the upper camber link on the left side was broken and the right side was not much better. The car continued down the track – without even much of a noticeable handicap – until the belly pan was ripped off and the car became stuck on the very last log and feature in the course. We waited at the top of the hill as the car was towed, worried about the extent of the damage….
The rear trailing links were in bad repair. The camber links had bent their connections to the the trailing links like a pretzel. We were not in good spirits and after a long debate we decided to call it quits for the weekend. We could have added support to the spare trailing liks and fixed everything in time to race Endurance, but there was some damage to other components as well. We decided that returning home and re-analyzing the components, our computer simulations, checking our material properties, and designing a solid solution was the best option, as much as we wanted to race the rest of the weekend. We stayed for the Endurance race as volunteers, but were not a part of the race and returned home the next day.
We are now in the process of rebuilding the car. We have designed new mounts for the rear trailing links after careful analysis. Other components and areas of the car also required some attention and these are being addressed as well.
It was a tough start to the 2013 season, but we are confident that the next 2 competitions will go much better once we fix the rear suspension and make a few other minor tweaks; the car was fast and performed well on the courses until our major breakdown. We’d like to thank all of our sponsors that have helped us get to this point, without your help our car would not be possible. We also want everyone to know that Washington is 2 weeks away and we will be ready!