Iowa Baja shows off newest off-road vehicle for national competition in May

The student organization is focused on designing, developing, and racing a Baja vehicle each year, and it showed off its latest Thursday.


Jenna Galligan

This year’s Baja racing vehicle stands in the Chemistry Building on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Jenna Galligan) The vehicle will be previewed in the Seaman Center New Annex on Thursday, April 18.

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

University of Iowa engineering students get hands-on experience and professional development, and they work toward a common goal in Iowa Baja.

The group is a student organization in the College of Engineering’s Mechanical Engineering Department that focuses on designing, building, and racing an off-road vehicle each year. Iowa Baja recently finished its model for 2019 and unveiled it Thursday in the Seamans Center, group President Rob Pohren said.

Thursday marked the second show of Baja’s work — its first took place last year. The members hope students and faculty will be aware of the organization and the work that goes into creating the vehicle each year, Pohren said.

Baja has more than 25 members, and 18 of them travel to the Baja SAE California national competition on May 16-19. The Monday after finals week, Baja will pack up its vehicle and equipment to drive 30 hours to Gorman, California, where they will compete with 100 other teams from around the world, Baja sponsorship coordinator Ben Atzen said.

The beginning of the national competition consists of an engine check, a technical inspection, a sales presentation, and a design presentation. Then the vehicle gets put to the test in dynamic events that study acceleration, maneuverability, suspension, endurance, and a hill climb, Atzen said.

Right after the competition each year, the team begins brainstorming for the next project. The members discuss what went well and what can improve, Atzen said. Baja students press professionals during summer internships for ideas about manufacturing and technical practices, he said.

“I knew nothing about cars when I first came into the Baja club,” Baja member Paulina Kroczak said. “But since, I have learned a lot about how to manufacture, and I got a lot more into the design aspect my junior year. I’ve also met a lot of good people. It’s a lot of good networking, speaking to future employers.”

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While beginning to create their new vehicle each fall, the team takes vehicles from previous years to race in regional competitions. There, the team gets feedback and ideas about what to bring to the table at nationals, Pohren said. Iowa Baja won Michigan Tech’s competition in February.

“A lot of engineers are hands-on learners, so being able to see a real-world application to what you learn in the classroom helps to solidify that knowledge,” Atzen said. “It’s made schoolwork a lot easier.”

Iowa Baja engages in outreach initiatives as well. The members engage in events around campus and go to area high schools to speak about engineering in STEM classes, Atzen said.

Paying for equipment and registration for races can be costly, so Iowa Baja runs mostly on the help of its sponsors. Members go into community businesses, pitching them on why Baja is worthy of being sponsored. This allows students to network and hold professional presentations while still studying at the UI, Atzen said.

“This is the best way to get hands-on experience, design experience, and grow your network,” Pohren said. “You’ll get out of it what you put into it.”