Championship off-road race team heads way south-of-the-border for international racing competition

RIT Baja Racing begins preparation and fundraising to open season in Brazil in March

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RIT Baja team members put the finishing touches on the 2014-2015 racecar in preparation for shipping it to Brazil this week. The team will compete in March in its first international competition since 2009, and looks to continue its winning tradition stateside and outside of the U.S. A Baja car is an off-road vehicle, built entirely by a team of students from majors such as engineering technology, engineering, industrial design and business, for example. The car must be able to competeā€”and surviveā€”hill and rock climbs, obstacle courses and endurance events. Team members are (left to right) Dan Palmiter, Kaity Wolford, Ryan Wager and Skyler Levy.

They will have missed Rio’s famous Carnival by only a few days, but the RIT Baja Racing Team will be planning its own excitement as it travels to Brazil to open its new season of SAE Baja racing competitions. Even though the competition takes place March 5–8, 2015, in the town of Piracicaba, just west of Rio de Janeiro, the majority of preparation is taking place well before the team sets off from Rochester.

This past weekend the team did last-minute adjustments and testing on its racecar and packed it to ship south. It should take several weeks for it to arrive in Brazil.

“We’ll be going several days early because we need to rebuild the car on-site,” said Taylor Clow, team member and a second-year industrial design major. “It is being sent in pieces, that’s for shipping purposes and to get it through customs.”

Between now and February, the team is looking for support through a fundraising campaign for travel and is also getting up-to-speed on Portuguese culture and language. This season is shaping up to be a familiar experience in intercollegiate race competitions but also a unique study-abroad opportunity for the team.

The last time RIT Baja Racing competed in Brazil was in 2009, and RIT was the only U.S. representative among 70 racecars. For current team members, this will be their first international competition.

“This year, the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina extended an invitation to host us, and we took them up on this,” said Clow about the Brazilian team that has been a long-time friendly competitor. “They’ve raced with us here in the U.S. We can compete and race with them on their turf.”

RIT Baja has a history of building strong cars that overcome rock climbs, obstacle courses and endurance racing. Last season, the team placed in the top five overall among hundreds of collegiate race teams at each of its three U.S. competitions. At the end of this past season, the team also placed third for the Mike Schmidt Memorial Iron Team Award. The prestigious Schmidt Award is given annually to the team that has participated in each of the three North American competitions and has the top combined point total from those events. It is significant to RIT Baja because it is named after former team member Michael Schmidt who passed away unexpectedly in 2001 at age 21. It is given to recognize a team’s perseverance, engineering excellence and competitive success, qualities ascribed to Schmidt while he competed.

“This is a very successful student club,” said Manian Ramkumar, department chair of the mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology program in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology, where the Baja team is based. “This will also be a crash course in international study abroad for the students, and they will have a chance to see their academic and design capabilities and skills compared to peers from around the world.”

Outside of formal classes, the students have been taking language lessons and culture classes organized by Marty Gordon, professor of mechanical engineering technology in CAST, and the team’s adviser, who spent part of the summer in Brazil planning for the trip, and Maria Victoria Savka, a fourth-year fine arts major from Brazil. She will act as team interpreter.

Over the past several years, RIT Baja has hosted five U.S.-based Baja SAE competitions at the RIT Field House and Activities Center and at Hogback Hill Race Track in Palmyra, N.Y. The most recent competition was in 2013, with nearly 100 teams from around the world.

The team expects to host another Baja East competition in 2016, but until that time, they will be among those traveling across the globe in search of a good off-road challenge.

Note: Team members traveling to Brazil include Clow, Doug Botto, second-year mechanical engineering technology (MET) student and team manager for the international trip; Dan Aliberti, fourth-year MET; CJ Winegar, fifth-year MET; Dan Palmiter, fourth-year mechanical engineering (ME); CJ Barbera, third-year ME; and Adam Cohen, second-year MET. When the team returns, it will compete in Alabama April 9–12, in Maryland May 7–10 and in Oregon May 27–30.

Related Links:

RIT Baja Team Fundraising

See the Baja car built through time-lapse video (2014)

RIT Hosts Baja SAE World Championships (2013)