For the student teams who participate in the Mahindra Baja challenge, the journey to that remote location near Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh is nothing short of a pilgrimage. It is a stretch of extremely dry, dusty and untamed piece of earth in the middle of nowhere but that’s where dreams turn into reality or get broken; several life lessons are learnt; and one’s spirit is tested to the core.
Road to Baja
Road to the Baja venue is not easy (both the literal and metaphorical ones). To be eligible for the final race, a team needs to start the preparations several months earlier. The proceedings over the course of an academic year has the potential to transform passionate and hard working students into industry-ready engineers.
A college team complete with a faculty advisor needs to be registered after which, the organizing committee releases the rule book (guidelines). It’s imperative for the team members to be fully familiar with the guidelines to pass the upcoming stages.
Then comes the most important step – the Virtual Baja which filters down the teams based on the soundness of their project proposal. A group of industry experts sit through presentations of every single team and analyze if their proposal, design, marketing, cost structure and project schedule adhere to the published rules. This is the stage where about half the number of teams get eliminated.
A good number of volunteers at this year’s main Baja event in Pithampur were members of teams which got eliminated in the Virtual Baja round. There were there to get a first-hand learning experience from their peers so that they can do better next year. That temperament is highly appreciable.
For those teams which are good enough to clear the virtual round, the next phase is to start building their buggies. It’s mandatory for the teams to do all the fabrication work within their college and comply with the rules at each and every stage. Given that rules and powertrain are same for all teams, the winning formula is to innovate within the limits of those guidelines. After a thorough technical inspection from Baja appointed officials, the buggy is ready to be shipped to the ground zero along with the required tools and spares.
The Race Weekend
The two-day event starts with an array of static and dynamic tests which determine the vehicles’ readiness for the torture of an endurance race. And this year’s endurance circuit was the longest and the most gruelling in the history of the event. It had everything from a slush pit, axle twisters, rock beds to a near insurmountable loose gravel climb.
The difference in difficulty level between 2016 and 2015 endurance races was so vast that majority of the teams struggled to stitch a lap together without getting stuck somewhere. Nevertheless, the unforgiving circuit served as a platform from some great display of driving skills and proved to be a real measurement of the teams’ perseverance.
Yes, a good number of buggies had significant flaws and a majority of the stronger ones ran on proven formula with no noteworthy innovations, but there were more than a fair share of honest and novel attempts worth lauding. The challenging endurance race also brought the best out of everybody. The energy in the atmosphere was simply electrifying. The teams were highly competitive yet compassionate (we witnessed a lot of teams helping out the less fortunate ones by sharing their tools and even vital spares).
This year’s edition also included a handful of pure electric buggies under the eBaja banner. The fleet of eco-friendly buggies had a great outing as every single one of them managed to complete the endurance race which took place separately. The organizers are expecting more entries under this category for the next season.
At the end of the day, the 2016 Mahindra SAE Baja serves as a great opportunity for engineering students to prove their mettle. It also provides a huge pool of talents for the automakers to pick from. On that long and scorching Sunday (21st February, 2016), we saw many things that strongly indicated that the future of the Indian auto industry is in the safe hands of extremely passionate, talented and dedicated engineers.