By Kimberly Peterson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Five UA students are taking their ideas to the road this week in El Paso, Tex., where they will enter their homemade car in a national competition.

The group, self-titled Team Baja '94, has entered the Mini Baja, a contest to find the perfect off-road vehicle, said Eric Irwin, a University of Arizona mechanical engineering senior and group member.

The term "Baja" means a desert race, or an off-road event, Irwin said.

The UA team will compete with 45 other schools, including those from Mexico and Canada. Each school has designed its own off-road vehicle.

Four other mechanical engineering seniors comprise the group: Jeff LaFranier, Cara Bates, Ralph Olsen and Sigifredo Delgado.

The team started designing the car in September, as an assignment in their Mechanical Engineering Design class, Irwin said. They started building it in January.

"Overall, I'm always amazed at the quality of the work these students put out," said Karl Ousterhout, a mechanical engineering professor who teaches the design class.

The team has spent a total of 2,000 hours working on the car, which seats one person and measures about 4 feet wide and 7.5 feet long.

Briggs and Stratton, a company that makes lawnmower and generator motors, donated one 8 horsepower motor for every car entered, Irwin said. This allows the car to travel up to 30 miles an hour.

Although the building process has been smooth, members of the group said the car still runs into some problems. "We drove out to Redington Pass and drove around for two minutes, and then the rear shocks broke," Irwin said. "So we had to spend all night redesigning the shocks."

Shocks intact, the car will run in four different trials at the competition: acceleration, maneuverability, the hill climb, and the four-hour endurance race.

"I'm worried about the endurance race," Irwin said. "It's worth the most points and is hardest on the car."

The car had to meet strict safety regulations set by the Society of Automotive Engineers, Irwin said. Each car needed a harness, arm restraints and chain guards.

The team received about $2,800 in donations from various local companies, including Direct Machine, Advanced Ceramic Research, and Jack Furrier's Western Tire Centers. Even ASUA contributed $400.

Should the team win the competition, they will receive national recognition and a great resum‚ addition, Irwin said.

"Going to the competition has status in the sense that you've worked very hard over the past year putting the car together," Ousterhout said. "As far as the job search is concerned, employers love it."

Having hands-on experience in designing projects is something that students at other universities rarely get, Ousterhout said.

"It was really an experience," Irwin said. "It taught me a lot about working with other people and just starting a project in general because you have to raise money for it, design it, and track down parts." Read Next Article