During the past decade, Pennsylvania College of Technology emerged as a top contender in the prestigious Baja SAE endurance race with several top-10 finishes. During the past month, the Penn College team established itself as one of the best in the world with two victories.
In a race earlier this month, Penn College topped a 77-car field in Palmyra, New York, to win the four-hour endurance race at Baja SAE Rochester. Three weeks ago, the team captured the endurance competition at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech. At both events, Penn College bested the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Cornell, Rochester Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech.
“I’m overwhelmed by the team’s performance,” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and adviser to Penn College’s Baja SAE club since its inception 17 years ago. “Winning the race was once amazing, but winning twice in three weeks over such outstanding schools is unbelievable. I couldn’t be prouder! “
Conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Baja competitions require teams to design, manufacture and build a single-seat, all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges. The endurance race – featuring rough terrain and tight turns – is regarded as Baja SAE’s preeminent event.
“It’s hard enough just to finish the endurance race, let alone win it,” Upcraft said. “The students did a masterful job throughout the year designing, building and testing the car so it could be fast and very durable.”
At Baja SAE Rochester, 15 cars completed less than 10 laps. In the winning race, Penn College recorded 57 laps, one lap more than runner-up at the University of Santa Cruz do Sul, a private university in Brazil.
“The race was a heck of a fight. The top five positions for tightening the pack’s cars were tight throughout. We didn’t really break away from the competition until the last 30 minutes or so, “ explained Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, vice president of the Baja Club and one of two Penn College drivers for the endurance race.
Penn College began the second spot in the race, a result of the team’s showing in the acceleration competition, held one of four dynamic events the previous day. By the end of the first lap, Harrison had the team’s 311-pound car in first, a position it held for most of the race.
“The course had a lot of elevation changes and maneuverability challenges,” Harrison said. “One section in the woods was so tight that you could barely squeeze one car through it.”
Upcraft credited with Harrison and Tyler J. Bandle, of Slatington, for navigating “A perfect race.” The lone pit stop was a planned one for change drivers and fuel. “To win, we had to run a clean race, and that’s what we did,” Upcraft said.
A collection of mud that jammed the car’s brake pedal into the race’s second half was a concern for a few minutes. However, Bandle dislodged the mud by repeatedly changing speeds and avoided a costly trip to the pits.
“Tyler didn’t panic. He used his head and was able to solve the problem on the course, “ Harrison said. “That was the key for us to maintain the lead.”
In addition to Penn College and the University of Santa Cruz do Sul, Rochester Institute of Technology, École de technologie supérieure (a Montreal university) and Michigan finished in the top five.
“The performance of the college’s Baja team has been unprecedented in past school history,” Remarked by Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “Of course, their success in recent weeks is rooted in their tremendous work throughout the year to prepare for these competitions. Their countless hours have paid off, and they’ve established quite a legacy for future teams to build upon. “
The team has six members who have recently graduated: Harrison and Dominic J. Lepri, of Monroe Township, NJ, manufacturing engineering technology; Bandle, automated manufacturing technology and machine tool technology; Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, NJ, automotive technology management; Morgan R. Bagenstose, of Reading, engineering design technology; and Caleb J. Harvey, of Pittsgrove, NJ, automated manufacturing technology.
“I can’t think of a better way to end our senior year than to be the most decorated Baja team in the college’s history,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of younger students on the team who are going to step up next year. They have shown that they have the drive and talent to continue our success. “
Underclassmen who assisted at Baja SAE Rochester are engineering engineering students Arjun L. Kempe, of Perkasie; Alec D. Rees, of Centerport, NY; and Isaac H. Thollot, of Milford; engineering design technology student Marshall W. Fowler, of Sellersville; and Alex E. Flores, of Bowie, Md., a welding & fabrication engineering technology student.
“I’m very thankful for the remarkable team and the invaluable support of the college and our sponsors,” Upcraft said. (The team’s lead sponsors were Gene Haas Foundation, Lycoming Engines and PMF Industries Inc.) “Everything and everyone came together to make this a dream Baja season.”
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