Bearcat Baja Racing Team Building a Legacy

By: Lauren Koch

The Bearcat Baja Racing Team prepares to compete against 100+ universities from around the world in the upcoming Baja SAE intercollegiate design competition April 19-22, 2012.

UPDATE (5/3): The Bearcats survived the endurance race making this year's team the most successful in recent UC history!

Congratulations to the 2012 Bearcats Baja team!

Check out some of the action in the video below.

Watch the Bearcat team through the entire project, from building the car to the final race!

The Bearcat's final results are posted below, beating the previous results in almost every category:

Category 2011 Result 2012 Result
Overall Score 65th 39th
Endurance Event 61st 37th
Suspension+ Traction 50th 57th
Maneuverability 53rd 11th
Acceleration  67th 59th
Design 82nd 31st
Cost 34th 35th


Baja Racing Team Seniors, Rob Faust, Jeremy Jacobs, Mark Schmidt and Mike Ratliff

Baja Racing Team Seniors, Rob Faust, Jeremy Jacobs, Mark Schmidt and Mike Ratliff

“Baja SAE is an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).Teams of students from universities all over the world design and build small off-road cars. The goal in Baja SAE racing is to design, build and race off-road vehicles that can withstand the harshest elements of rough terrain. Each year as many as 141 Baja cars are entered in the Baja SAE events across the US and around the world.”

As the Bearcat Baja team prepares to compete against universities from all over the world, they are filled with anticipation and excitement. “It’s a long tough road, but we are enjoying it,” says Team Captain, Jeremy Jacobs. He describes it’s all about experience. “We haven’t had consecutive teams in the past, so this year’s team is building an infrastructure to enhance teams in the years to come.”

Jacobs has made a large effort to transform this year’s Bearcat Baja team. Along with his fellow team members, he has laid a foundation to encourage success in the years to come. With the power of word-of-mouth and some reaching out, the team has grown from a mere three senior members last year, to its current count of 14 members. Four seniors, seven juniors, and three sophomore and freshmen make up the 2012 Baja racing team.

The four seniors each have a major responsibility in building the car. Jacob’s role as team manager is to oversee the entire building process. Each senior heads up a technical section of the car: Jacobs works on the control arms, Rob Faust builds the transaxle, Michael Ratliff fabricates and constructs the frame and Mark Schmidt is in charge of brakes.

The new 2012 Bearcat Baja car frame sits in front of last year’s 2011 Bearcat Baja Racing Car

The new 2012 Bearcat Baja car frame sits in front of last year’s 2011 Bearcat Baja Racing car

Jacob states, “We have made an effort to involve students from each year; freshman, juniors, and seniors are involved in the planning and building process… so that by the time the underclassmen are seniors and are able to take over the project, they know what the competition looks like… they are more familiar with the program and they know what to expect.”

The vehicles designed for the Baja SAE racing competition are often similar to dune buggies; however the competition is more than just building a car. The competition challenges students to utilize their skills in not only racing, but planning, manufacturing, analysis, and problem solving.

Before the teams can ever begin construction of the frame, they must first use refined computer programs to analyze their car. The technology is so sophisticated; students must make their calculations just right, because if their measurements are slightly off, it will throw the entire analysis off. Until the analysis is run and proven they cannot begin the next step; building the car.

Students must function as a team to design, build, test, promote and race their vehicle within the limits of the rules, and also generate financial support for their project and manage their educational priorities.

Professor and Advisor to the Baja team, Allen Arthur explains, “You never know in the beginning of the project how much money you are going to have, so if you go the heavier and cheaper route, you may end up with left over money and a heavier car, however if you go for the more expensive thus lighter route, you end up spending money you haven’t earned. Now you are in trouble if you don’t raise the money.”

Ben Steele, a junior team member, working to make parts for the control arms

Ben Steele, a junior team member, working to make parts for the control arms

For the longest time, the UC team only had $5,000 and weren’t sure if they were going to raise any more money. Thankfully, more money came in slowly but by then students already had to make their design decisions. The team has raised an impressive $20,000 in sponsorship money.

Designing of the car is a constant balancing act.  When deciding what materials to use to build their car, students can either choose very exotic expensive light materials, or they can use very cheap, conventional heavy steels. The UC team has taken, for the most part, the less expensive route, making the car fairly heavy.

“The technical problems students face is how to make the car lighter constantly… everything you put on it weighs something, down to the decals and paint… you have to take everything you want into consideration,” states Arthur.

They have even taken into consideration the weight of the senior students who will be driving. One extremely dedicated senior has undertaken a diet to help shave off some extra weight.

Jacobs inspecting the Bearcat Baja Car

Jacobs inspecting the Bearcat Baja car

The competition takes place in Auburn, Alabama April 19-22. During the competition, vehicles are tested on acceleration, traction, maneuverability, obstacle climbing ability and endurance. Cars can be driven off jumps as high as 3-4 feet. The competition is arranged so you score points in each of the competitions, like the acceleration and traction tests, and whoever gets the most points wins.

The competition culminates in a final four-hour-long endurance race of all schools. During the infamous endurance race, all 100+ teams will be racing and each UC senior will get a chance to drive.

Jacobs describes, “The SAE judges tell the drivers of the course, it is designed to break the car… so we have to design a car strong enough and engineer it well enough, to be able to handle everything… and if it breaks we have to be able to fix it.”

Out of the approximately 100 schools, at best, half are expected to complete the course. Cars are expected to come back to the pit after having flipped and possibly broken, in desperate need of repair.

Last year’s team’s transponder and chain broke, making them unable to finish the endurance race. The 2012 team is learning from past missteps by consulting with past team members. The design takes into consideration the previous year’s issues while adding new features. The Bearcats are aiming high, confident they have a design that could win them first place!

The Baja SAE Competition originated at the University of South Carolina in 1976, under the supervision of Dr. J. F. Stevens. Since that time, the competition has grown to become a premier engineering design series for university teams. 

The Baja SAE Competition began at the University of South Carolina in 1976, under the supervision of Dr. J. F. Stevens. Since it originated, the competition has grown to become a leading engineering design series for university teams. 

Good Luck to the 2012 Bearcat Baja Team!

Good Luck to the 2012 Bearcat Baja Team!

Click on the links for more information:

Bearcats Baja:
Bearcats Baja Facebook Page:
Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series:
Baja SAE Competition Auburn, Alabama:
Baja SAE Competition Auburn Event Site:

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