The Bronx has produced its share of heroes and notable teams—sports and otherwise—no doubt. But, did you know that the “Birthplace of Hip Hop” produces a racing team that designs and builds its own car? The Manhattan College Mini Baja Club is no ordinary extracurricular activity.
The budding mechanical engineering members—most of whom participate in the program as their senior project—work tirelessly year-round to build from scratch a full-throttle off-road vehicle that will survive severe conditions on rough terrain. This is a soup-to-nuts endeavor, with the students acquiring both business acumen in learning how to introduce a product to the commercial industrial market, and hands-on savvy of the mechanics involved in taking a Briggs & Stratton 10-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine and transforming it into a drivable vehicle for a yearly competition. This year’s Baja SAE®(Society of Automobile Engineers)took place from June 9 through 12, both on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester and at the Hogback Hill Motocross in Palmyra, NY, and consisted of highly competitive static and dynamic events. Creating all the accoutrements around this dependable engine provided by Briggs & Stratton, the team designed and built the transmission, suspension, brake system,electronics, and all other parts for this four-day championship match.
“With such challenging tests for the acceleration, hill climbing, maneuverability and suspension functions of the vehicle, these young engineerswere under tremendous pressure, not only to create a durable and mechanically-sound racing car, but to repair anything that went wrong on the spot,” said Graham Walker, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Manhattan College and faculty advisor on the project. And repair they did. First they were challenged with brake issues after participating in the braking test. Then,a broken chain took them out of the big race on June 12 for a short time. The grueling 1.5 mile course—which, incidentally, was traveled 30 times lap after lap over a four-hour period by the top teams—battered the cars, many of which had to be towed with broken wheels or because they had flipped. Numerous teams throughout the four-day competition were faced with limited supplies and equipment, and even though each was striving toward the same goal, they still came together to help their fellow Baja enthusiasts by providing anything from a generator for power to something as simple as a small piece of sheet metal.
The 2015-2016 Manhattan College Mini Baja team is the first to have fully designed and fabricated—with the help of Jasper alumni Joseph Messina—a functional manual five-speed transmission. Most teams that participate in the Baja SAE® race use a CVT, (continuously variable transmission), which may be easier to implement into the design, but may be more problematic in that the driver has less control inshifting gears, as well as a loss of torque to the rear wheels. As one of a very few Jasper teams to create a shifter mechanism, reverse-capability transmission, the students also made history in being the first to design, build and employ a computer systemto digitally determine each gear position and display it for the driver.
The Manhattan College car made it one-third of the way around the endurance course after encountering severe moguls; the fierce amount of torque required for this steep up-and-downhill sharp-turn maze caused the chain to pop off. “Although there were periodic mechanical issues, the coordination of multiple hands drilling, molding, and re-framing the vehicle in record time to get back into the race was more than impressive, and demonstrated a tenacity that I found admirable,” added Dr. Walker. The Manhattan College Mini Baja Club has only completed the course once or twice in the school’s history—that is how difficult it is.
So, how did our boys do this year? Scoring a perfect 15 out of 15 on their cost analysis, they brought home a vehicle that will not be immediately disassembled as in past years, but rather one that will serve as a teaching tool for the 2016-2017 year’s group. “What distinguished this year’s team of juniors and seniors was their underdog status,” said Mr. Ansalone. “Some of the bigger schools had $50,000 under them, and that makes a difference when it comes to supplies, availability of manufacturing facilities, and other necessary components to design, build, test, and race the vehicle. Such perks as having a simulated course on which to test the caris vital to its success in competition.”
About Manhattan College
Manhattan College is an independent, Catholic, co-educational college in the Lasallian tradition; its engineers have played an integral part in the building of New York City. From robotics to the environment, computing to infrastructure design, the School of Engineering gives back to humanity and the earth we inhabit. Sponsorship for the Manhattan College Mini Baja is available, and provides businesses with tremendous advertising and exposure throughout the project. To contact Dr. Walker, please call 718–862–7405 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Left to right: Dr. Graham Walker (Advisor), and seniors David Annunziato, David Xerri, Matthew Maino, Matthew Christian, Devon Keane (Team Captain), and John Kuruc (seated).