By Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)

The Baja team is just getting back from our trip to Midnight Mayhem, and as always, we had a blast! This year we took a group of 25 people, including 15 new members of the Baja team. What’s even more impressive is that this year both the Rochester and California cars survived the entire endurance race needing nothing more than a few zip ties and a piece of Phil Swift’s quality Flex Tape.

My favorite part of the event was seeing the new member’s reactions after they had a chance to drive in the endurance race. Even some of the more quiet members were exploding with excitement and adrenaline after they got out of the Baja car. We got to see everything from people literally jumping up and down to people telling stories about how they passed some of the other cars on the track. Everyone loved driving, and I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a single accident during the endurance race!

It was a glowing station at Midnight Mayhem

This Midnight Mayhem was also quite interesting because of the events that they decided to run. Instead of the Baja Cross event that they had last year, we had “Barrel Climb”, “Barrel Jumping”, or “Barrel Racing”, depending on who was announcing. Essentially it was like the barrel racing event with horses, except with just one barrel and you started by driving downhill. In addition to Barrel Racing, we had a nice maneuverability course, and a good endurance course that went through the motocross track and the forest.

Gears saw considerable mayhem

Of course though, it wouldn’t be Midnight Mayhem without a little bit of…well…mayhem. In the morning of the event day, we tried to start our generator that we filled with a couple gallons of gas only to learn that it wouldn’t start. Despite the giant text on the front of the generator saying the minimum fuel required, we somehow managed to put less than the minimum required fuel in the generator. Also, quite conveniently, Rochester managed to break literal seconds after finishing the final lap of the endurance race. For those that haven’t seen the pictures yet, take a look and you’ll see that one of the bearings in the gearbox failed. At the time, we had no idea what happened, but people walking Rochester back to the paddocks reported hearing a loud, horrific sound followed by Rochester stopping dead in its tracks. But hey, Rochester broke after the race, so that still means we had a “flawless” event, right?


By Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)

On behalf of the entire University of Rochester Baja SAE Team, I would like to thank all of our alumni for their support of our team. As many of you know, we reached out to over a hundred alumni this past winter break to help support our team. Thanks to the support of all of our alumni, we managed to raise $2,770 this holiday season. The support from all of our alumni has been amazing, and it’s bringing us closer and closer to our dream of attending three competitions this year.

In addition to reaching out to alumni, the entire Baja team has been trying to connect with potential corporate sponsors to bring us even closer to our $30,000 goal for the season. Recently, we’ve acquired the sponsorship of a couple different machine shops that seem very interested in supporting the team. In addition, we are currently in the process of finalizing a monetary donation from Van Bortel, the automotive dealership. While we haven’t quite reached our goal yet, the UR Baja team has managed to raise a grand total of over $24,000 from the University, alumni, and corporate sponsors.

Obviously, we still have a more work to be done with sponsorship. In order for the team to manage the third competition this year, we need to raise about another $6,000. We certainly are thankful for all the donations that we have received thus far, but if anyone is still considering donating, please know that your donation could make the difference between going to two or three competitions. If you’re wondering how you could support the Baja Team, it’s simple. Just head on over to our website at (https://sa.rochester.edu/baja/donate/), and follow the directions on the page.

The University of Rochester Baja SAE Team is an amazing learning experience that we are all blessed to be a part of. Thank you all for your support, both previous and future, and hopefully we will see some of you all at competition.


By Harris Mandell (Mechanical Engineering, ’21)

I was first introduced to Baja SAE while passing by one of the cars in the Rettner Atrium on an engineering tour of the university. I have always been a big fan of automotive engineering and racing. One of my favorite races has always been the Baja 1000, a high-speed off-road race through the desert of the Baja California Peninsula that pushes the limits of engineering and driver skill. When I discovered that there was a club at the University of Rochester that was based on this event, I wanted in immediately. I was told that nearly all the design, fabrication, and testing was done by undergraduate students. At that moment, that was very hard to believe. There was no way a group of undergraduate students could possibly understand all the intricacies of designing and fabricating a fully functioning race car. Several months later when I arrived on campus I learned that I was completely wrong.

I learned that something really special happens at this club. It all starts with a common goal: designing and building a single-seater off-road race car each year to compete in competitions across the nation. When that goal is presented to a bunch of passionate, solution-oriented people and after some research and trial and error, a race car pops out. I think what makes the club so successful is that everyone brings their personal experiences, skill sets, ambition, and work ethic to the table. Additionally, despite being a complex engineering project, absolutely no prior knowledge or experience was required. You don’t even have to be an engineer to join! I was amazed by that, and the fact that it was easy to hop in and get caught up to speed on current projects and goals.

The 2017-2018 season has been an amazing experience thus far. I have had the chance to really challenge myself, apply what I know, and acquire new knowledge and skills such as machining, welding, and computer-aided design. I find it to be the perfect complement to the academic work I do during the week. I really look forward to the upcoming competitions this spring and the future seasons to come.


By Gilead Biggie (Mechanical Engineering, ’18)

New for the 2018 season, our team will be cutting some of our parts in house with the help of John Miller and his shop’s ProtoTRAK AGE 3 CNC mill. With the help of Professor Muir, our faculty adviser, team members have been learning to program toolpaths in Siemens NX and run them on the ProtoTRAK. Last November, the first part was cut in machinable wax, a rear upright for our most recent suspension designs. Wax was used to test the toolpaths and demonstrate the capabilities of the machine.

For the 2018 car, we will be making the brake pedal. A wax prototype has been cut and the aluminum one will be cut in the next couple weeks. The use of CNC technology allows the brake pedal to be more ergonomically friendly in addition to having a geometry which better suites the design of the footbox.

We also plan to use the ProtoTRAK to cut the housing for our custom rack and pinion. We are implementing a custom rack and pinion to allow for 180-degree “butterfly” steering. The custom rack housing also provides more flexibility in mounting the rack in the footbox in addition to reducing weight. The use of CNC technology in house is and will continue to be a huge asset to the team. We would like to thank John, Bill, Frank, and Professor Muir for all of their support in gaining access to this technology.


At Baja Kansas 2017, after the endurance race had ended and we were about to leave to head back to Rochester, I gave everyone on the team a chance to say something about the Baja season or team. Knowing it was Prof. Gracewski’s last season as the primary advisor to the team, I absolutely wanted to give both Prof. Muir and her a chance to say something. As she spoke, you could see the sadness in everyone’s eyes, as her “mini-speech” was very emotional, and I will never forget how proud she was of us that day, having finished in one of the best placements in the history of UR Baja SAE.

Kevin Bonko (Mechanical Engineering, ’17)

She gave us so much important advice and guidance for sure. We relied on her so much for design validation, and that really enabled us to build our own confidence.  Without her assurance, a lot of what we tried would’ve felt like a shot in the dark, even if it were good.

Peter Fiala (Optical Engineering, ’17)

There are innumerable anecdotes I could share regarding my time with Professor Gracewski–be it entertaining, inspiring, or somewhere in between. One of her qualities that struck me more times than I can possibly hope to write about was how candid she was with her students and mentees. Professor Gracewski sought for each and every individual she helped to understand the engineering decisions they made, the math behind a complicated derivation, or even the consequence of specific actions. This meant she subjected students to questioning that some might relate more to an interrogation, having no fear of being honest or saying when something was completely wrong. I doubt I am the first nor the last person to have been intimidated by Professor Gracewski before I had the chance to work with her closely and know her better than “the Baja Advisor.” Once I passed that barrier, however, I understood and appreciated all she did. She made me consider difficult questions and doubt my own math more often than not. Her challenges were not always easy to answer, but learning and growing are not meant to be a trivial task. It is about struggling with challenging problems, understanding the consequences of difficult decisions, and being cognizant of what you do not understand. Professor Gracewski may not have specifically taught these principles, but I understand it from how she mentored and guided me. I wish Professor Gracewski the best as she steps down from Baja Faculty Advisor, and that she can continue to have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

Alan Grier (Mechanical Engineering, ’17)


By Dylan Borruso (Optical Engineering, ’19)

This past week the UR Baja SAE team moved from the Gavett Hall shop to a new shop in Taylor Hall. The new shop occupies the combined space of the old Taylor Hall student shop and an adjacent office and storage closet. With the move, the Baja team has expanded their in-shop access to machines. Specifically, the team has acquired a verticle bandsaw, mill, and lathe. All of these machines were previously housed in the old student shop.

Early planning for the move began in the spring of 2017. Over the summer, more concrete plans were developed and meetings with the University of Rochester administration were held to determine the exact requirements of the Baja team. The plans were finalized late in the summer and construction began at the beginning of September. The final touches were finished on November 3rd. Over the next two weeks, the equipment from the Gavett Hall shop was packed into more than 40 boxes and transferred, along with all of the tables, shelves, cabinets, and toolboxes to the new Baja shop.

The new shop, with 24/7 access to machinery, will allow the Baja team to continue to reliably manufacture important components of the car in-house.  The addition of the verticle bandsaw is also a huge improvement to the last shop and allows the team to fabricate plastic and aluminum components without having to cut them by hand.


By Noah Meyers (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)

The 2018 suspension on the University of Rochester Baja SAE car is currently being designed. While the geometry of the suspension was decided over the summer, some individual parts of this subsystem have never been used before, or have simply been bought stock from another company. This year, we hope to make both a custom rack and pinion assembly for steering, and a custom driveshaft based on two universal joints (u-joints).

Rack and Pinion

This year our goal was to implement butterfly steering. Butterfly steering means that the driver only has to turn the steering wheel 180º for the steering rack to travel over its entire range. Our current steering rack requires 300º of travel, so to change this, the gear attached to the steering column was made larger.

The next course of action will be to make the housing for both the gear shown and the rack which it turns.

Custom driveshaft

In the recent history of the team, we have used a Polaris CV axle to transfer power from the output shaft to the wheels. Each of these shafts weighs about 8lb, and in an effort to reduce weight this year, we decided to try a different approach for this driveshaft. By modifying the suspension geometry, we can now use universal joints to connect a fixed length shaft to both the hub and the output shaft. Instead of allowing the shaft to change length (this is what a CV axle allows) we now only allow the shaft to travel in and out of the output shaft (the maximum plunge is less than 0.75”, so there is little chance of the shaft slipping out).

There are other smaller projects which will be happening as the year progresses. Some of these are briefly shown below:

Weight reduction of the hubs

This project is one that I personally worked on last year. The goal for this year is to create a hub from scratch, instead of starting with a hub for a Polaris ATV, and create the part on a CNC machine.

Design of uprights

Arguably the most complicated part of the suspension to design, the process for designing these will begin in a little over a month. They’re designed to reduce weight, while still connecting all other links of the suspension to their correct positions as determined by the suspension geometry.

Roll bar testing

Starting two years ago, the Baja car was fitted with a roll bar. This year’s car will also have a roll bar, however, the exact stiffness of this is yet to be determined. This will be determined through testing on our 2017 car and assessment of driver feedback on various roll bar thicknesses.


By Ethan Fahnestock (Physics and Astronomy, ’21)

Midnight Mayhem has me hooked on Baja. After just two weeks on the team and an hour of driver training, the other new members and I joined the rest of the team on a 10-hour trek to the middle of nowhere Kentucky. After we survived the drive and learned a little more about our teammates than we planned to), we set up camp, met some of the other teams, and rested up for the competition the next day.

The day of competition was where all the action happened. It started early – with the preparation of our cars to pass tech – and ended late with the “six-hour” endurance race planned from 6 pm to midnight. The time in between these two events was full of car fixing acceleration and Baja-cross events, food, team camaraderie (and shenanigans), and short naps.

Then endurance took over the evening. I’m not going to lie; the course walk intimidated me. Our team president – although possibly being overdramatic expressed concern several times that the cars wouldn’t be able to make it up the hills. The course was full of jumps, logs, mud, drops, you name it, it was there somewhere. However, once I got in the car, the fear disappeared. It was like driving go-carts on steroids. We survived the endurance race without sustaining major damages to either of the cars. After the competition, we packed up the trailer, rested, and drove back up to Rochester.

Midnight Mayhem was an opportunity to experience Baja, and what an experience it was.


By Kevin Bonko (Mechanical Engineering, ’17)

Why do we stay up into the wee hours of the morning to paint a couple pieces of welded steel? Why do we drive countless hours to a dirt track in the middle of nowhere? Why do we wake up at 5:00AM on a Saturday morning to go to an off-road track at RIT? Because racecar. We build a racecar. This is a point that many of us forget, myself included. Yes, we are an engineering club. Yes, we build an off-road vehicle capable of climbing stairs. But at the end of the day, we build a racecar.

At the beginning of my presidency, I was looking at how to revamp our process for recruiting new members. Countless hours were spent on updating advertising material and posters, inserting wording that described what we do as a club. “We design, manufacture, test, and compete with a single-seater off-road vehicle” is the punchline I generally settled on. However, by the constant reminder of one of my teammates Laurence Lohman, “dude we build a RACECAR.” As a club, UR Baja SAE ultimately builds an off-road racecar, and I can never be so grateful for what this club has done for me.

I joined this team as a timid freshman looking to get some practical engineering experience under my belt. I knew how to use a screwdriver and a drill, but not much else. Within a few weeks, I was knees deep in changing engines on-and-off cars, replacing brake calipers, and ultimately rebuilding a vehicle. If you told me as a freshman that I would be elected as president of the best club at the University of Rochester, I would have shrugged my shoulders and laughed at you. Three years later, I find myself walking into a conference room, being told that I was elected as the next president.

During elections, I emphasize to each of the those nominated that I do not want to hear what Baja has done for you, but for what you have done for Baja. This racecar-building club has taken time I did not know I had and formed me into the mechanical engineer and person that I am today. I have met people that will forever shape how I look at the world around me and how I approach challenges. I learned that it takes a team to build this thing that is a Baja vehicle, no matter how talented a particular person or people are. This club, through all of the experiences and people I have met, defines who I am today.

Building a racecar should be a mandatory course for all mechanical engineers, not only for its practical applications, but for working in this team environment. There is not another team, organization, or club on this campus that eats dinner together every Friday as well as lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I know I can call any of my teammates, my family, at 3:00AM to pick me up from the airport, and those people will not only show up to pick me up but in a way that is obnoxious as possible for the sake of being obnoxious (you can use your imagination here). Build a racecar, make a family. Thank you UR Baja.


By Stephanie Bandoski ( Neuroscience, ’17)

As a non-engineering student, what intrigued me the most about Baja SAE was the racing. From the little bit of autocross and off-roading I had done in the past, I knew that to drive well, there was a lot more to it than just fun and games. Don’t believe me? Take a look at The Physics of Racing by Brian Beckman, and that only touches upon 2d stuff! Never mind jumps, rocks, mud or any other obstacle we see at Baja SAE competitions.

And why is racing so important to us as a team? Racing is essentially the application of all the designs that went into the car which took the team over half a year to build. It’s the application and use of those designs that prove whether or not the design and manufacture was effective. Without testing how our suspension elements handle going over logs, how do we know what to improve upon next year? Answer is, we don’t.

So, this year, we were so confident in our designs we chose to devote some time to driver training. We didn’t want the limiting factor at competitions to be our drivers’ abilities, but rather be limited by our actual engineering abilities. And it’s amazing how much understanding of physics and engineering was needed in order to drive our car to its limits! It is naive the think that the engineering process and therefore Baja SAE stops at just the manufacture of our car. In order to go full circle and know what to change next year, our knowledge has to extend into the physics of racing.


By Noah Meyers (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)

When I joined the UR Baja team earlier this year, I knew how to use a drill, and I had held a ratchet maybe once or twice before in my life. Within a few weeks, I learned how to use many of the tools our team could access and had begun work on design concepts in SolidWorks. For comparison, I will only be learning CAD software in the classroom this summer, and I don’t know anyone else who would teach me how to use an angle grinder outside of the team. It’s safe to say I’m hooked on Baja, but how did I get so addicted?

When I was at the club activities fair in the fall, I saw a car which I assumed was black underneath all the mud on it. This piqued my interests immediately; I have always had a fascination with cars, but I also saw that this was no ordinary car. When I got to their booth, I learned that students on campus receive an engine, and build the rest so it could compete in off- road racing; I wrote my name on the email list immediately.

Arguably the main reason I have stayed on the team is the amount of practical learning there is when working on a car. I have been heavily involved in the design process for this year’s new car, and I have seen how many parts need to come together for the car to roll, let alone perform well, and I’ve designed some of them myself. Working under the project team lead for suspension, I started work on reducing the weight of our rear hubs. Ultimately that design is not ready for this year’s competition, but I will most certainly be back to finish what I have started.

Even as a new member on the team, I have seen that you need communication between everyone if you want a successful car. You can’t build a car where a shock gets welded to the frame but there is no frame member to transmit the force of the car. If there is a lack of communication between the frame and suspension teams, this could very easily happen, and the results could be catastrophic. What was incredible to a novice like me was that I was still in this integrated mesh of discussion. I attended design board meetings to learn more about the car, and it has truly fascinated me to see everything coming together on time, despite the inevitable hiccups (like the new hubs breaking two weeks before competition). In addition, everyone on the team wants you to learn, they don’t want to be the only ones carrying the weight of design and assembly. This selflessness is what I think makes us an excellent team, because reaching out to the newer members like me will help to only strengthen the team in the long run, and build more connections moving forward.

Competition has been sold to me as the end goal of all the progress we make from year to year. I have only gone to Midnight Mayhem so far, which is not an official competition, instead it’s geared more towards increased freshmen participation on our team. What I do know about official competitions is that we are a top tier team. With all the work we put into the car during the year, between our design, assembly, and post-assembly testing, we are competing amongst some of the best schools in the nation. I have been promised that I will enjoy competition by numerous veterans to the team, and I would hope so. It is where being a team, a communication network where everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses, can replace a flat tire quickly then send the car right back onto the endurance track, or weld an upright back together to keep our car in the mix. This is where we can show our design prowess to the judges, justifying all the decisions we have made regarding the car, and comparing the price of our car to one already in existence. All of this and so much more excites me, and I can’t wait to go to competition in California in less than a week.

This year has been a fantastic freshman year for me, and I owe most of that to the UR Baja team. I have learned valuable career skills not because I had to, but because they were made fun and useful. Not only that, but I learned these traits from people who not too long ago were in my shoes, and now they oversee the design and production of the car. To these people, I want to say thank you for giving me the knowledge I now have, and the knowledge I will continue to absorb in my time on the team. I would truly consider this year and the ones proceeding to be the best of my life thanks to this team.


By Wendy Snyder (Mechanical Engineering, ’17)

The Baja manufacturing season is typically a full semester of chaos. There are many long days in the shop, numerous late nights, and often a last-minute scramble to finish the car in time for the first competition. At the start of this school year, the team was looking forward to the benefit of having both competitions after the end of the semester, providing ample time for tuning and testing after the car was complete. As we all know too well, nothing changes like plans. After a hectic registration day, it was decided to attend the competition in California on April 27-30th. In addition to many other challenges introduced by attending a competition across the country, the timeline for completing the car was suddenly shortened by an entire month.

            While daunting, the accelerated timeline motivated the team. We managed to meet our goal for completing the chassis and by the date we had set as a goal to have a running car, we had a nearly complete car. The hard work of team members to complete the car on schedule left us with almost an entire month to test, tune and tweak the car prior to competition. Testing and tuning is an important step in the engineering design cycle, one that our team has often struggled to complete in past years due to time and resource constraints.

            With the car complete, we started listing out different aspects of our vehicle that we could measure and test to verify and validate our design and analysis. We started simple, measuring basic properties like vehicle weight and ride height. In response to the difficulties we experienced with our brake system last year, we looked to validate the analytical model we used for brake design this year. To do this, we took a few days to add a set of pressure gauges into the brake circuits to measure the pressure as a function of input force.

            With the help of recent alumni Matt Isbell and our sponsor SimuTech Corp., we were able to get our Hall effect sensors working to collect data on our CVT shift curve. Using the data, we then adjusted our tuning settings to achieve the ideal shift curve determined by our model. During testing, we also measured the vehicle’s top speed using a radar gun.  After determining ideal CVT settings to achieve the desired shift curve for standard driving, we moved to a hill and collected some data to see the response of the CVT in a hill climb scenario.

            Once CVT settings were selected, the remaining time was spent tuning suspension to determine the optimal shock and tire pressures for different obstacles and to improve handling. Utilizing our small on-campus practice track, we drove the vehicle over tabletops, baby graves, logs, and tires. The car handled each obstacle with ease and settings were selected to obtain the smoothest traversal over all obstacles.

            During our testing, we found a few components that required redesign or reinforcement. From each failure, we learned something new about the car, as well as our design and analysis. With the extra month spent testing and tuning, we had time to correct things we found that were wrong and improve what didn’t work quite as expected. All these corrections are valuable time saved at competition since we were able to catch them early and correct them before we even arrived at the site.

            Of course, there are always more things to test and tune. We plan to further test in the time between the California and Kansas competitions once we have the opportunity to see how our car handles at a real competition. One main goal for this time is to use strain gauges for the first time in order to validate some of our load cases. After a year of hard work, the team is in one of the best places we have ever been as we head to competition in California. We are ready to go out, have fun, get dirty, and bring home a trophy!


By Professor Sheryl Gracewski

I have been the faculty advisor for the UR SAE Baja team for over 20 years, so I have witnessed the remarkable evolution of the team. The most obvious growth is in the number of students: currently, about 40 students make significant contributions to the team each year, whereas in the past, there have been teams with as few as 5 members. The surge in numbers has been accompanied by an increase in student diversity, including not only students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, but also from a wider range of majors. For example, economics majors have recently helped the team excel in the Baja competition’s Sale Presentation and electrical engineering majors are developing data acquisition systems to test vehicle performance.

The Team has grown in many more ways than just increasing numbers. By necessity, the Team has refined its organizational structure to handle the additional training and logistics needed for a larger group. It is amazing that the students not only design and fabricate a Baja vehicle each year, but they also train the underclassmen, so that they can take over and be successful the next year. Each year they devise better methods for this training. For example, they have created Wiki pages and are developing training videos to archive critical information.

The Team’s design, analysis, fabrication, and overall engineering skills have also vastly improved, especially over the last several years. Such advances would not have been possible without the support of the Team’s sponsors, local industries, alumni, and the Team’s family and friends. To coordinate the larger number of students contributing to the design, they have set up the Product Data Management system and instituted various systematic methods for CADing their designs in Solidworks. In addition, their knowledge of and access to fabrication techniques has also significantly increased in recent years, with the assistance of local companies. For example, they now design their own gearbox and have it fabricated by local sponsors, whereas in the past they either purchased a gearbox or used a less robust system of chains and sprockets.

The team members, especially the team leaders, seem to have boundless enthusiasm and put in an enormous amount of time and energy into the team. It is not unusual to find 10-20 Baja members working in the shop or Baja office on a Saturday or Sunday. They begin preparing for the next year, on the way home from the last competition of the summer, as they review how well their vehicle performed and where they could improve on the design. They meet (online) weekly starting early in the summer, so they can finish most of the design in the fall semester, and complete fabrication and testing of the car before the first competition in late spring.

Working with the UR SAE Baja Team has been an amazing experience. I have witnessed not only the growth of the team, but also the advancement of the team members, from novices to team leaders and beyond. I enjoy seeing the alumni that support the team and cheer them on at competitions.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know so many outstanding students.


By Oscar Ta (Optical Engineering ‘18)

Our Baja team is in partnership with a composite company, Laird Plastics. In previous years, they have been the plastics distributor our team has received materials from. Following up this year, Laird Plastics requested us to test applications for their strongest plastic.

Their material, KyronMAX, offers mechanical properties comparable to metals. For example, KryonMAX is said to have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel, which can save volume on design.

We started to test the material by cutting a steering wheel out of a 6’’ by 11’’ sheet of the composite.

Amazingly, the material withstood the heat from a 0.75’’ diameter bit, spinning at 10000rpm on a CNC router. Noticing the unexpected resilience of the material, we raised the idea of testing the material under more stressful conditions.

Natural curiosity pushed us to wonder how it would break. Our next step is to test the material with a part under more stressful conditions than a simple steering wheel. The rear caliper mounting plate on the gearbox is a perfect candidate because it must withstand constant vibration.

A full-fledged report will be written from our Baja team. Hopefully, the results of this partnership will spearhead future company partnerships from our team.