LAWRENCE — The task: To build a better buggy.
That’s the goal of the Jayhawk Motorosports Baja team, a group of students in the University of Kansas School of Engineering. They’re nearing completion of a single-seat, off-road racing vehicle — what older folks used to call a “dune buggy” — for competition in May at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas.
"This is a really good project to be a part of,” said Michael Kitchen, a junior in mechanical engineering from Olathe.
More than a dozen team members have spent most of the school year designing and building the vehicle. They’ll compete against roughly 100 other teams during the competition, one of three Baja competitions around the country sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Judging will take place over four days. During the first two, judges will do technical inspections and brake testing on the vehicles, as well as hear a fictional sales pitch from the team, describing its car’s highlights and features.
"It's not necessarily ‘Shark Tank,’” Kitchen said. “But you're giving your design pitch to these judges to let them determine which car is best to make in a long-term run." After first two days of judging, Kitchen said, “the fun begins.”
That’s when the car is put through its paces in a series of exercises that test its suspension, maneuverability, speed, acceleration and more. In this stage, the car is judged on how well it actually works. “It’s the most rewarding part,” Kitchen said.
The fourth day is the culmination: The car is put through a four-hour endurance competition on a two-mile course. The team receives points for each lap completed those hours; driving duties are split between two drivers.
“You only stop if you need to refuel, or if you break,” Kitchen said. "You push the design to be as durable as you can be. You can make a durable car, but sitting in it can be taxing on the body."
The winner of the competition: the car that performs the best in all phases.
Kitchen said the competition has proven useful training for students preparing for careers in engineering.
"Something like this where you work with a lot of mindsets, a lot of personalities, it's really beneficial for your future career,” he said. “Building a car in a year is a really big task, so you have to work on a team."
The car will be publicly unveiled at 5 p.m. April 28 at the Oread Hotel, 1200 Oread Ave. The competition is scheduled for May 17-20 at Pittsburg State University.