Baja SAE club behind the scenes at the Mint 400

By Bonnie Paresa

There was no fear and loathing in Las Vegas for four Cal Poly Pomona Baja SAE students March 20-23. Although week 10 is usually a time for students to cram information into their brains and pound caffeine into their systems to stay awake for long hours of studying, these four students attended the Mint 400 races in Las Vegas to learn more about the technicalities of off-road racing, courtesy of Red Bull.

Baja SAE is an engineering collegiate design competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. As a way for engineering students to get involved, the society sets up competitions to allow students to learn more about the industry. It is seen as a mock business firm on campus, where students do not only design and build a vehicle, but also present to judges.

In 2008, the team won the Illinois competition, and has always placed since then.

CPP Baja SAE advisor, Clifford Stover, connected with Red Bull to give students an opportunity to learn more about the world of professional off-road racing and to see first-hand the caliber of the vehicles that are produced.

“The team at Cal Poly Pomona is a mix of students. Some people are involved in off-roading, and some people have never worked on a car in their lives,” said Max Mitchell, fifth-year mechanical engineering student. “So it’s really good for them to get hands-on experience.”

The Mint 400, is a 100-mile loop, off-road race, that was first held in 1967 and organized by the, now non-existent, Mint Hotel. Now, the General Tire Mint 400, holds the title of the “toughest, most spectacular off-road race in North America.”

Some of the largest names in extreme sports culture such as Nitro Circus daredevil, Travis Pastrana and last year’s Mint 400 winner Bryce Menzies were both Red Bull athletes this year.

SAE students were able to look around Menzie’s shop and ask questions to the car builders, attend events such as the pit crew challenge and attend the actual races themselves.

“Being able to talk to some of the professional race car builders and ask them questions that are important to me as a student in engineering was very interesting,” said Mitchell. “Being able to ask really technical questions was beneficial. They also gave me recommendations for stuff that we should try out too.”

The students found that the way they produce their single seat, off-road vehicle is similar to the way the professionals make them.

“We use similar manufacturing processes, they have a very similar setup to what we have [at school],” said Mitchell. “I think that is an advantage for us, because we’re doing what they’re doing at a professional level.”

This year, Andy McMillin took home the title of Overall Winner, as well as the prize of ten thousand dollars. Menzies, fresh off of last year’s win, was favored to be the winner again but found himself in a spot of bad luck when he clipped a Joshua Tree and had to get his drive shaft repaired.

Although this was a disappointment for some, this did not take away any of the excitement for the students, as they were highly interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the competition.

“We were able to see how techniques that are applied on the [CPP] Baja car are also used out in the industry on the competing cars,” said Vanessa Gonzalez, third-year mechanical engineering student. “Seeing different approaches to design and their performance during the race was good exposure for creating next year’s car.”

The Mint 400 is part of the Red Bull Signature Series and will be aired on July 6 on NBC.

Baja SAE club behind the scenes at the Mint 400

Patricia Sanchez/The Poly Post

Baja SAE club behind the scenes at the Mint 400

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