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A team of mechanical engineering students outpaced more than half the field at the 2001 Midwest Mini Baja Competition, held June 1-3 in Troy, Ohio. Lafayette finished in 44th place among 96 teams, improving upon last year’s showing of 74th place among 106 teams.

Lafayette distinguished itself not only by its overall performance, but also by the fact that it was one of only three colleges from the U.S. or Canada to compete, and the only one of those to offer four-year degrees in a range of subjects. The vast majority of the competitors were from universities and technical institutes.

The Lafayette team received high marks from judges in several individual categories. Only one team scored better in the appearance category, while five schools tied Lafayette. In comfort, Lafayette topped all but four other entries, tying five schools. In both of these categories, Lafayette outperformed the teams finishing with the top four overall scores. For ride, Lafayette outclassed 12 of the top 13 overall finishers.

The Lafayette team was comprised of Louis Rollo ’01 (Moriches, N.Y.), David Campos ’01 (Norwell, Mass.), Eric Lopez ’01 (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Jeff Weinman ’01 (Towanda, Pa.), Abid Jeevraj ’02 (Whitehall, Pa.) and Farid Khan ’02 (Allentown, Pa.). Steve Ryder ’01 (Pitman, N.J.) modeled the crash-worthiness of the car for his honors thesis. Laura Ruhala, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, served as the group’s advisor, although virtually all mechanical engineering faculty members offered advice.

In the Mini-Baja program, students function as a team to design, build, test, modify, promote, and race a vehicle. They also are responsible for generating financial support for their project and managing their educational priorities. Other than a motor donated by Briggs & Stratton and some parts purchased from Polaris, the vehicle is solely designed and fabricated by the students.

“This is the third year in a row that Lafayette has entered a car in the competition,” said Rollo shortly before the competition. “We’re really excited about that. We have a completely new design, with nothing taken from last year except a few non-essential parts.”

“The whole project is just amazing,” he continued. “It takes a lot of dedication and hard work. No team here has been done this early or made this quality of a vehicle. Most teams finish a week before the event.”

This year’s car was more versatile than past years’ Mini-Baja vehicles, traveling in low, high, neutral, and reverse gears. The students also designed independent rear suspension, which facilitates smoother weight transfer. They used Computer Aided Design software to model all components, assembling virtual representations to check for part clearances.

Entries were judged through a variety of tests, including an off-road endurance race in which the students all took a hand at driving to see how many laps each team could complete in four hours. Other categories included acceleration and braking, maneuverability, towing, speed, presentation, and design. The 25th annual competition was sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers and Briggs & Stratton.

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