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Hurricane Baja team passes on lessons learned from redesign

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The University of Tulsa’s Hurricane Baja team competed in a Society of Automotive Engineers Baja event in Pittsburg, Kansas, May 25-28. TU mechanical engineers compete annually in the intercollegiate event featuring teams of students that design and build off-road cars. Mechanical engineering seniors participate as part of a senior design project.

hurricane bajaThe TU team’s 2017 entry featured a complete redesign with a frame that increased the size of the car’s cockpit while shortening its wheel base. The student crew cut, bent, notched and welded steel tubing to build the frame. Although the frame is built from scratch, the wheels, tires, steering wheel, rack and pinion, and axles (that are modified in house) are purchased. Team leader Daniel Boyce said the car’s custom design is a first in the history of Hurricane Baja cars. Students fabricated the vehicle with the intent it can be rebuilt and tweaked for lighter weight and better performance next year. TU’s car never has had a repeatable design that can be modified from year to year. The Baja entry gained 3 inches of ride height, better suspension geometry and a CVT with a custom final drive gearbox that increases performance with a smaller turning radius, faster acceleration and top speed.

“This will allow us to consistently improve the car and perform better in each competition,” Boyce said.

hurricane bajaTU’s participation in the SAE Baja competition involved an engine technical inspection along with marketing and design presentations. Every aspect of the car is noted; and if entries fail inspection, they are allowed to return to the garage for last-minute modifications. A braking test requiring all four wheels to lock on dry pavement is conducted to prove the brakes are effective. Other dynamic events include an acceleration test, suspension test course, maneuverability and sled pull. The Baja event’s finale is a four-hour endurance race that features a 1.5-mile course with obstacles and jumps. The team that completes the most laps is awarded the most points. Hurricane Baja made repairs early in the race to continue but eventually ended the day early due to suspension problems.

hurricane baja“I don’t necessarily look at it as a failure,” Boyce said. “There were a lot of things we learned about the car and the design that we can pass on to next year’s team.”

Mechanical engineering senior C.J. Barton has been Hurricane Baja’s primary driver for the past two years and plans to take on the role of team leader in 2018.