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BYU engineering students take first place in "Mini-Baja West"

BYU engineering students took first place in the annual "Mini-Baja West" competition over the weekend, beating more than 100 teams from the United States, Mexico, Korea and Poland.

Sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the competition brings budding automotive engineers together to subject their designs to strict judging standards and their vehicles to grueling endurance and performance tests.

BYU mechanical engineering professor Robert Todd is this year's Mini-Baja West chief organizer.

"The Society of Automotive Engineers' Mini-Baja Competition is probably the most prestigious and realistic collegiate engineering design competition of its kind in the world," said Todd, who spent 10 years as a manager and director at GM and Michelin and 20 years in academics. "Engineering students get to use all of their analysis, design, manufacturing, economic, people and team skills in developing an exciting product and then test the application of their skills in a very realistic way."

"BYU has always done well in this competition, finishing in the top three in four of the five years we have participated," said Michael J. Whiting, a BYU graduate mechanical engineering student and assistant organizer of the event. "This indicates the ability of the engineering students here at BYU, and SAE wants to bring more students into this type of environment."

The student engineering teams are charged with producing a single-seat, off-road vehicle prototype for evaluation and marketing. They strive to build a vehicle that negotiates rough terrain, is safe, fun to drive, easily maintained and easily transported. The engineers' target audience is a weekend nonprofessional off-road enthusiast who is looking for a vehicle under $3,000.

All the cars in the competition use a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine so the design of the cars' drive trains, frames and suspension systems is what sets teams' cars apart. One BYU team decided to design and install a reverse gear on its ATV, while the other decided to make a lighter and perhaps sturdier vehicle by leaving out a reverse gear.

In addition to earning points based on performance, the teams are judged on the ingenuity and practicality of their designs, their attention to cost and manufacturing requirements, and their ability to "sell" their design to judges.

Additional sponsors of Mini-Baja West 2003 are Honda, Polaris, Raytheon, Briggs & Stratton and MSC Software.

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