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Mahindra Baja 2017 Report – From Trend To Tradition

It takes years of research, development, trial and validation for an automaker to put a machine on a live race track. And then we see roughly 21-year olds undertake a highly similar approach in every step of the way and unveil their ATV at Baja SAEINDIA, in just about 10 months of time!

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That’s not all, these vehicles pass the scrutiny and validation on-site by the very same automotive engineers who have worked on the cars that we drive home. Also, these ATVs then proceed to perform on and conquer some brutal off-road tracks at the Baja site, on which (I’m pretty sure) none of the cars that are around us will be able to survive even a single lap.

That’s the kind of learning Baja effects on young engineering students in India, in less than a year’s time. Baja brings engineering to life and also gives those students a huge opportunity to get placed at the top automotive firms in the country. All this is conducted by a non-profit organisation – now that’s what makes this event all about the students and nothing else.

Now, would you be interested to know what happened at the decade edition of Baja SAEINDIA?

Much like the previous seasons, Baja 2017 was highly organised and immensely challenging to the participants, but the magnanimity was in the scale of the event this year, right from the beginning. There were a record-breaking 414 registrations for Baja 2017, which meant 414 multiplied by upto 25 (students per team/college), summing up to 10,350 participants! This included one team from BITS, Dubai who shipped their pride production all the way from the UAE and back.

That many students arrived at Christ University, Bangalore for Virtual Baja 2017 where they presented their designs, calculations, production strategies and validation plans, to get into an unforgiving short list of 150. There were also eBaja participations, of which 34 were approved for fabrication. So, not even 50 percent of the registered teams were allowed to proceed to production, and yet there were 184 vehicles being built over the next six months all across the country. As usual, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka had the higher participation.

There would be a significant difference between an engineering graduate who has been a part of Baja SAEINDIA and not; and hence the sponsoring OEMs grab a couple of them each at the site, at the HR meet. They are not judged based on the performance of their respective vehicles, but simply based on each individual’s capability. What could be more fulfilling to the students than this? This is why, at Baja, there is a chance for everybody to win, if not at the race, in life.

After getting selected among the top 150 at Virtual Baja where written test and detailed design presentation were conducted, they start the fabrication of their vehicle strictly within the college premises. No outside/professional help is allowed as per the rulebook of Baja SAEINDIA which also dictates various procedures and standards that must be followed while designing and building the vehicle.

From this point on, the Baja Alumni Committee actively keeps in touch with all the teams, to monitor their progress, guide them in decoding and following the rulebook, in purchasing the engine that is standard to all the Baja vehicles, and the like. There are also live webinars (online seminars) organised for the selected teams in computer aided designing and analysis of the components, and the whole vehicle too.The same kind of workshop is conducted physically at different zones in the country for a more up-close interaction for the students – all this for a zero additional fee.

Then various levels of off-site scrutiny is done, via email, through submission of various reports every fortnight, self-certification sheets – towards the end, visit by regional mentors assigned to the teams, and in the end, technical inspection teams visit each college to validate the vehicles a month before they are transported to the Baja site near Indore, Madhya Pradesh. This kind of thorough and periodical audit of the teams, and the human resources – Alumni to help them out (in non-technical matters) to ensure the quality of the vehicles that arrive at the venue.

Once the vehicles are loaded onto the transport truck, the students gather at Indore and attend the HR meet where preliminary tests are conducted for their placement like Baja Aptitude Test (BAT) and psychometric test. The next day (usually on the same day) they unload their vehicles and take it to their respective pits beside at the venue, and they setup their makeshift workshop for the next four days.

And the fest begins!

The event begins with the business/sales presentation, then the vehicle cost presentation, vehicle-weight check, technical inspection, design evaluation, brake test, acceleration test, sled-pull event, suspension & traction test, and manoeuvrability run.

From here on, the teams had to pencil down their own strategy to earn complete all the events and earn maximum points, because Baja 2017 took the challenge to the students to a different level. Usually all the said events were lined up sequentially so that every team completes each one to move to the subsequent event, but this time the tests and evaluations were open to whoever was ready at the time. Some were mandatory and some were excusable. This made the teams prioritize and strategize an order to attend all of them. Teams that did not see this coming barely completed the mandated evaluations by the time the sharper teams made it through the dynamic events like sled-pull and maneuverability track.

The fierce play didn’t end there. The grand finale, the endurance run for four hours on the treacherous 5+ km track, where around 124 vehicles competed with each other, was not just a test for the fittest. It was also a test for the smartest. While most of the ATVs were battling the terrain, caring more about not breaking any limb of the vehicle, the top tier teams had no worry of that sort except for saving every second that they could.

Those who watched the endurance run closely like they watch F1 or Moto GP, realised that there was a Hamilton-Rosberg, Rossi-Marquez kind of intense situation going on between three teams namely Team Nemesis Racing (Car 25 – College of Engineering, Pune), Stallions Racing (Car 150 – Alard College of Engineering, Pune), and Team Avishkar (Car 50 – Dr. BR Ambedkar National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar), who were the overall winners in the same order.

The best eBaja team was declared as Team Kraftwagen (Car E153 – Sinhgad College of Engineering, Pune).