The Cornell Baja SAE Racing Team’s off-road, single-seat race car snagged first place last weekend in an international competition against 88 other teams.
Twenty-eight members of the team traveled to Auburn University in Alabama April 19 to race their latest vehicle, “the ML08,” named for Prof. Michael Louge, mechanical and aerospace engineering and the team’s advisor. In addition to winning first place overall, the team took home third in overall design, first in suspension and traction, second in hill climb, second in acceleration and fourth in endurance.
“We worked for it, for sure,” said team member Andrew Otto ’12. “It was one of those years where we did everything we could to make that happen.”
Still, he added, “I don’t like to let my ego inflate. I try not to let that happen.”
The team has been steadily improving since its inception eight years ago, according to team leader Brian Toth ’12. The weekend victory marked the team’s second first-place finish in competition, while its last six cars have placed in the top 10, he said.
The team, which designs a new race car every year, is responsible for all aspects of designing, building, testing and even financing the project. Toth said that the team brainstorms over the summer, with preliminary and final design reviews occurring in the fall. Then, in January, the team spends a few weeks before the start of spring semester constructing the car, leaving a few months leading up to competition to test and fine-tune the vehicle.
The team leader Matt Polnerow ’12 added that the ML08 is the product of a culmination of what he and fellow seniors have learned since freshman year.
“We really took a step back and analyzed every little bit of our car,” Polnerow said. “Things that had carried over from years past and had worked, so we just kept using them. We actually took a step back … and often found out that they weren’t the best things for the application and redesigned our own.”
Toth added that while the car often undergoes major changes from year to year, this year’s model in particular was essentially built “from the ground up.”
“This year … the only thing that was similar was the seat,” Toth said.
According to Polnerow, the team ultimately fulfilled many of the goals it set at the beginning of the academic year to improve the overall performance of its car. For instance, with an emphasis on simplicity, team members shed more than 80 pounds from the vehicle compared to the previous model, he said.
“It was definitely the simplest car we’ve ever made. We cut out a lot of the extraneous bits,” Polnerow said.
According to Polnerow, the terrain has logs, rocks, jumps, tree stumps, giant ruts and holes. The course is “designed to break your car,” he said.
He added that driving through the course also requires skill, due to inevitable contact between drivers who, in striving to pass one another, are likely to hit each other in the process.
“It’s definitely not your road trip family Sedan,” Polnerow said.
The senior members of the team are usually the ones who race the car at competitions. Other times, team members are chosen to race based on the event in question; for example, the lightest driver will compete in an event that tests the car’s acceleration capacity. Polnerow was one of three drivers who participated in the four-hour endurance race last weekend.
In June, Otto, Toth and Polnerow, who joined Baja SAE as freshmen because of their “love of cars and building things,” will participate in their second competition this year — and their last competition at Cornell.
“Driving is the [most fun] thing I’ve done in college,” Polnerow said.