Rain, mud, or snow--the Off-Road Illini Baja SAE team is ready to go


Maddie Yang

Off Road Illini Baja SAEThe Off-Road Illini is the Baja SAE team for Illinois. Every year they design, build, and compete an off-road vehicle which races head-to-head against other Baja teams from around the globe.

The Baja SAE competition, like all SAE competitions, consists of both static and dynamic events. The static events include a design presentation in front of a panel of engineers who work in the industry, a cost report in which the cost of manufacturing the car is considered, and a business presentation. Occurring over four days, the dynamic events start with a technical inspection where the judges dissect the car to make sure that it’s rules-compliant, a maneuverability course where the car has to make it through a series of tight turns, a suspension and traction event where the car must go over many difficult obstacles, and a hill climb or sled pull where the car must make it up a steep hill or pull a certain amount of weight. On the last day is a four-hour endurance race where all the teams are on the track.

The Off-Road Illini has three main sub-teams: chassis, drivetrain, and suspension. There are also two additional sub-teams: business, and testing and electronics. Chassis focuses on driver ergonomics and system integration, making sure that the driver is safe and comfortable as well as ensuring that the components from the other sub-teams are secured on the car. Drivetrain handles power transmission from the engine, which is stock for the Baja SAE competition. This involves the gearbox, continuously variable transmission (CVT), differential for four-wheel drive, driveshafts, propshaft, and brakes. The suspension team is in charge of vehicle dynamics including steering and impact absorption from the rough terrain of the off-road competition. The business sub-team is non-technical but their work is critical to the team’s success. They maintain relationships with corporate sponsors to make sure that the team has funding in order to build a car each year, as well as handle the team’s public relations. Testing and electronics is a recently developed sub-team working to put electronic components on the car including a tachometer, speedometer, and CVT cooling fan as well as working to collect data for use in design.

Welding on the Off Road Illini team car.

Last year was the first time that the Off-Road Illini built a four-wheel drive vehicle because of a new rules change that was implemented. Despite the challenges that the pandemic caused, they were able to design and manufacture this new car, named Margaret, who competed last May in Louisville. This year they are hoping to improve upon last year’s four-wheel drive design for their new car, Beckley, as well as work on repairing old cars to use for testing.

“Coming into college, I knew nothing about designing or building a vehicle but the Baja team welcomed me with open arms and promised to teach me everything I needed to know. Three years later, the club has been an amazing way for me to get hands-on experience, apply my classroom knowledge, and even procure internships. However, the best part for me has been the people. I’ve found some of my best friends on the team and they make all of the time I devote to the club completely worth it!” said President Haley Middendorf.

New members can be assigned a project as soon as they are interested and can get class credit through ME 199. They are also invited to drive days and competitions where they can drive the car as well as work carnage crew – rescuing vehicles during the race that get stuck or turn over. If interested in joining the Off-Road Illini, contact the team’s New Member Coordinator Adam Zuiker at azuiker2@illinois.edu.