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UCLA Racing Baja places 1st in maneuverability event

June 6, 2011

By Anthony Tyson
Photos courtesy of Pittsburg State University.

UCLA Racing Baja is an international collegiate design competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The contest challenges each team to function as a small manufacturing firm whose task is to design, fabricate, market, and race an off-road vehicle prototype that will be evaluated from a variety of manufacturing angles. Each year various SAE sections host a West, Midwest, and East competition in which approximately 100 teams from across the nation and around the world bring their vehicles to undergo rigorous testing.

This year UCLA Racing competed in the Midwest Competition at Pittsburg State in Kansas with over 100 other universities from 23 different countries.  This is the 13th year UCLA Racing Baja has competed.  With every passing year members gain extremely valuable experience that drives the next iteration of the vehicle.  The team, led by 3rd year Mechanical Engineers Anthony Gambardella and Anthony Tyson, realized that a shift in design was needed to improve vehicle maneuverability to stay competitive with the other top universities such as Cal Poly and OSU.   To accomplish this, they decided to implement a new enclosed drivetrain design with a planetary gear reduction followed by an open differential coupled with a driver controlled cutting brake that can individually lock either the left or right rear wheels during tight turning.

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These were major design challenges for the team.  The team utilizes Solidworks to design and perform FEA analysis on every part of the vehicle.  With Solidworks FEA they were even able to reduce the chassis weight by 45 lbs. from the previous year, while still keeping almost the same vehicle strength and resilience.  Any experienced engineer also knows that design can only go so far, and that real field testing must be done to prove concepts.  Just a week before leaving for competition, after another day of testing, a design flaw in the drivetrain differential caused a failure that destroyed every single gear. This was an event classroom could never prepare you for, but previous crisis experience and resourcefulness were on the UCLA team’s side.  In less than five days the failure was identified, a redesign was finalized, new gears were obtained and cut by sponsor A&H Wire EDM, new steel shafts were made, and the vehicle was fully operational for competition.

At competition these new design changes proved to be a success.  With the 100 universities competing from around the world, UCLA Racing placed 1st in the Maneuverability race, driven by 3rd year Anthony Tyson.  This is UCLA’s first year placing first in an event and hopefully the one of many to come.  Overall UCLA placed 24th with the combined scores from all the dynamic and static events.  The team has been steadily rising in the ranks recently among other top universities with a 16th overall placement in 2010.  New designs and models for the next year’s vehicle have already begun, including even more carbon fiber composite implementations for weight reduction.  Just as in aerospace industry, UCLA Racing Baja is pushing every engineering aspect of the vehicle to its limit to create the lightest, fastest, and most agile vehicle possible.

UCLA Racing is providing real-world, on demand, team oriented experience for students to design and compete a fully off road vehicle. Every aspect of the vehicle is designed and manufactured by the students involved. They utilize various manufacturing processes such as CNC milling, Abrasive Waterjet Cutting, Wire EDM, carbon fiber composite processes, and welding.  The UCLA racing team functions as a business would and is open to university students from diverse backgrounds and majors, including students studying math, computer science, business, communications, and all engineering fields such as mechanical, aerospace, material science, electrical and software engineering. Mentorship is provided to all new team members. UCLA Racing graduates have a distinct advantage over other graduates in that they have hands-on experience, management/crisis experience, and have a competition level of initiative, drive, and ability.

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For the past two years, at least one UCLA Racing Baja officer has taken a Full Scholarship to pursue a PHD degree at Cal Tech.  Many graduates have also pursed master degrees, law degrees, and have become successful in industry.   This summer UCLA Racing Baja officers will be interning at companies such as SpaceX, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Honda where they take real engineering experiences and bring it back to the UCLA community to mentor new members.

This past year UCLA Racing has received more support from sponsors than ever before.  The great successes couldn’t be possible without them. Their support creates great engineers that graduate with real world knowledge who will one day give back as Alumni to future students.  The Joseph Beggs foundation has been UCLA Racing’s greatest consistent supporter from the beginning, even providing them their own trailer in 2006.  Their support is greatly appreciated.  Along with them other top supporters are Lockheed Martin, Honda, Dukes Weld and Fabrication, Kaiser Aluminum, RM Body shop, A&H Wire EDM, Edwards Heat treating, UCLA USAC, UCLA Engineering Alumni Association, and the MAE department.