TuksBaja team wins 2019 South Africa title in clash of self-made off-road vehicles

Posted on October 21, 2019

It was a clean sweep for the University of Pretoria’s (UP) TuksBaja team, whose Car 17 emerged the overall winner in this year’s action-packed Baja SAE South Africa Competition.

TuksBaja’s Car 10 took pole position in the endurance race, while two other UP cars grabbed the second and third spots. The event was hosted by UP on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 October, with students from Unisa and Nelson Mandela University also taking part. Eight cars built by students from the three universities entered the event.

According to Schalk Els, Professor and leader of the Vehicle Dynamics Group in UP’s Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, “The objective of the competition is to produce well-rounded engineers with practical experience that is useful in the workplace.”

Prof Els explained that during the endurance race the UP cars managed to stay on the track for the majority of the race, overcoming rock pits, speed bumps and a number of other obstacles that proved too much for some of the other competitors. “The cars survived 50 laps, 48 laps and 47 laps, respectively.”

He said, “The Tuks cars survived and at the end of the competition, once the points were tallied, the overall winner was announced – TuksBaja Car 17 – our brand new 2019 model!” 

Baja SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) is an international engineering design competition in which undergraduate students have to conceptualise, design, manufacture and test an off-road car which complies with strict safety rules. The car is designed to last in a four-hour off-road endurance race every October, as well as compete in a number of other events including design evaluation, safety, sales and performance. Performance includes acceleration and a sled pull, handling and top speed. 

TuksBaja 17 passing the finish line after 3 hours  TuksBaja receives the endurance race Trophy  Endurance race start

The competition started in the United States in 1976 and was introduced to South Africa by UP in 1996. Since then UP, which has participated every year, has been intricately involved in the organisation of the competition.

UP organiser Wietsche Penny said, “Students put in hard work nine months before the event. It was out of the ordinary for a new car to win overall. Normally, new cars suffer from reliability problems.”

According to Prof Els, “TuksBaja designs and manufactures almost 97% of their own parts and has more than 50 active team members who currently work on four cars. This is more than any other university in South Africa.”

Team Captain Dylan Cornew, a third-year electrical engineering student, said, “The win was fantastic. We are overjoyed. The amount of work we put in was exponentially more than in previous years, but we reaped the rewards.”

Calvin Reabow, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and Vice-Captain of the team, worked on the suspension of the new car and managed and maintained the car that came third. He said, “I am happy that we managed to get three of the four cars across the finish line. Even the Tuks rookie team, which designed Car 2, performed extremely well, considering that they are juniors (first- and second-year) students.” 

Meanwhile, the drivers of the cars have to pass a rigorous safety inspection and brake test. The team will be going to the BAJA SAE Arizona competition in April 2020. “We will take younger team members to increase exposure and promote transfer of skills,” Cornew said.  

- Author Prim Gower

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