Northwestern’s Baja and Formula SAE Teams Rev Up

Both teams have new cars and will compete this month.

Northwestern’s Formula SAE car sports the Chicago skyline this year. Chief engineer Jacob Buser says the team wanted a unique look that identifies it with the University.

Don’t be alarmed if you see the Chicago skyline blazing down the street this month.

The beginning of May marks the start of racing season, and Northwestern’s Baja and Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) teams will hit the road in three competitions this month. Both teams have new, lighter, better-designed cars – right down to the black skyline painted on the Formula SAE car’s exterior.

The Formula team will compete May 14-17 at FSAE Michigan in the Michigan International Speedway and May 22-25 at Formula North in Barrie, Ontario. The Baja team will race in the 2014 Baja SAE Kansas, an international competition at Pittsburg State University May 22-25.

The Formula car’s new look denotes a brand-new and improved vehicle. Built for speed, Formula racing cars are open-wheeled, single seaters. This year’s car is 10 percent lighter than last year’s model. Formula’s chief engineer Jacob Buser and his teammates trimmed the weight by redesigning the hubs and wheel centers, reducing the size of the a-arms, and using aluminum instead of welded steel for the uprights. They also used a 3-D printer to create the car’s uptake, and they left more room in the driver’s cell.

“This car is designed for everybody,” says Buser, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, “from the smallest women on the team to men who are over 6-feet tall.”

Affectionately named “Knuckles,” the Baja car also sports a new design. Built for off-roading, Baja cars navigate rough terrain, such as snow, mud, and rocks. The upcoming competition marks a milestone for the Baja team, which has recently grown exponentially— recruiting 15 new members and gaining 22 corporate sponsors in just the past year.

A crowd, including President Morton Schapiro, checks out the 2014 Baja SAE car during its April 24 unveiling.“This is the first year in the Baja team’s 20-year history that we built a car—start to finish—in one year,” says Carolyn Jones, senior in mechanical engineering and Baja’s project manager.

Each Baja competition team works with an unmodified, single-cylinder Briggs and Stratton engine. All parts of the 2014 car are smaller, lighter, stronger, and more efficient than in previous years. At 366 pounds, Knuckles is 60 pounds lighter than last year’s model. “Because the engine is so weak,” Jones says, “it’s really important to make the cars light.”

During competitions, the Baja and Formula cars will undergo design judging as well as an endurance race. The Baja teams also participate in dynamic events, which include hill climbs, rock crawls, and maneuverability challenges.

“I want to see our car finish the grueling, 4-hour endurance race,” Jones says. “100 cars go in. 10 or so come out. And I know we can do it.”