Off Road and On Track to Win
Tandon Fields a Baja SAE Team
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) had staid beginnings: in June 1902 Peter Heldt, the editor of a new trade magazine, The Horseless Age, penned a piece that asserted, “Now there is a noticeable tendency for automobile manufacturers to follow certain accepted lines of construction, technical questions constantly arise which seek solution from the cooperation of the technical men connected with the industry. These questions could best be dealt with by a technical society.” Shortly thereafter, a group of 30 engineers joined together to form that society (with a pre-fame Henry Ford as one of the fledgling group’s officers).
Today, the SAE has more than 127,000 members, and among its signature initiatives is a series of far-from-staid collegiate design competitions, which find university teams from around the world designing and building an off-road vehicle from the ground up. The finished vehicles then participate in a grueling four-hour endurance race over punishing terrain to test design merit and reliability.
This year, with the help of advisors Kee M. Park and Joseph Borowiec, professors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a group of students launched an SAE group dubbed NYU Tandon Motorsports. Led by Austin Hunt (a mechanical engineering student who serves as captain) and Marcus Cheung (who studies mechanical engineering and integrated digital media and serves as director of media and external affairs), it includes students from every major — all interested in leveraging what they’ve learned in the classroom out in the field. That would be “field” in the literal sense; Baja race courses are notoriously muddy, rocky, and strewn with obstacles. The SAE expects student teams to not only design and build race-worthy vehicles while following strict, challenging parameters, but also to learn teamwork, budgeting, logistics, and time management.
The members of Tandon’s large team are learning all that — along with a few practical skills that may serve them well in future endeavors; a group recently trekked to Staten Island to take a course in welding, allowing them to fabricate their vehicle’s frame themselves. Although aluminum forms most of their frame, Hunt explains, “We’re also innovating with carbon fiber” for supporting portions. “It’s just as safe but lighter and even stronger in some ways.” The safety of the driver (slated to be mechanical engineering student Rachel Stolzman) is of paramount concern to the team, which is carefully calculating to avoid any possible accidents.
Hunt and Cheung see distinct advantages to being a new SAE entity. “Because this is our first year,” they say, “we aren’t being influenced by anything done before and have total design freedom.” They hope that in the coming years, the members will progress to compete in the SAE Formula competition, in which students design and build scaled-down Formula One cars powered by 600cc motorcycle engines.
They stress that the Baja team is seeking sponsors of all types. “If there is interest in assisting our team, both economically and through engineering advice, we would be thrilled to speak with you,” Cheung says, “and, hopefully, proudly display your support!”
Hunt and Cheung also welcome more SAE Club members. An open and inclusive forum, the club is run under the Office of Student Activities and Resource Center (OSARC) at Tandon and serves as a platform for both engineers and auto enthusiasts. Hunt and Cheung, who point out that the club is a starting point for anyone seeking to join a Tandon motorsports team, hope to continue its growth into a professional network, mounting automotive career fairs and other such events. Currently, they are planning a variety of instructional and educational activities, including an engine dissection lab session and a Computer Aided Design (CAD) lesson.