Baja Team shows resilience in Rochester

The NC State University Pack Motorsports Baja SAE Team competed against 92 teams in the Baja SAE Rochester Competition in Rochester, New York on June 2nd, wrapping up their 2022 competition season just two weeks after competing at the 2022 Tennessee Tech Competition. 

In Rochester, the team placed 53rd Overall, 38th in Endurance, 23rd in Acceleration, 30th in Maneuverability, 39th in Sled Pull, 70th in Suspension & Traction, 27th in Sales, 49th in Cost and 55th in Design. Previously, at the Tennessee Tech competition, the team placed 23rd overall out of 88 teams, where they also placed 6th in Acceleration, 17th in Sled Pull, 17th in Endurance and 36th in Suspension & Traction.

“Rochester was a very challenging competition for us as a team. Nothing really went according to plan and we had to make a lot of split second decisions and on-site repairs,” Sean Fijen, Baja team Composites/Ergonomics lead, said Friday.

According to Fijen, the weekend started off strong with the team passing tech inspection and brake tests all on the first day. They also improved in design presentation by 10 points since the previous competition. 

“The day after was when the difficulties began,” Fijen said. 

The team suffered a 50 point penalty in design due to a document submission error, they then start dynamics day by making changes to their setup and attempting acceleration, but during this time the dirt on the track had worn loose which resulted in poor launches on both of their runs, Fijen said. They faced a similar problem during the Sled Pull event, where the sled dug into the gravel course and cost the team points. 

The next event was Maneuverability, and the driver put in a very fast lap time, but hit many cones in the process so penalty seconds knocked them down. He was confident he could clean up the lap on the second run and go faster, Fijen said.

“On his next run he did exactly that. Through the first half of the lap he had a massive improvement in speed as well as avoiding cones in the slalom he had hit on the lap prior,” Fijen said. “Then at the course’s most challenging corner, a heavily off-camber banked turn, he took the turn in such a way that caused him to roll onto his side resulting in a heartbreaking DNF (Did Not Finish).”

Next up was the Suspension & Traction event, for which the course was designed by representatives from Fox suspension with the explicit goal of pushing cars to the breaking point. During this event, the car suffered major damage to the steering components and right rear suspension, which left the Wolfpack Motorsports team working late into the evening to make sure the car was fit to race in the endurance test the next day. 

The next day, the car start off strong during the Endurance event, starting 23rd on the grid but maintaining a strong race pace. Throughout the first hour, the driver was able to put in very strong lap-times and fight his way through the pack, and at the 1 hour mark, he had made his way to 15th. Then, at about the hour and 20 minutes mark, disaster struck.

The car had suffered a critical steering failure and was unable to turn to the right anymore, Fijen said. The driver pulled the car off the track and into their paddock, where the team discovered that their steering rack had sheared in half. 

“For a brief moment it looked like our race was over and we would be going home early. In the end we pushed through and made on-site modifications to a spare and rebuilt the steering rack as fast as we could,” Fijen said. “The repairs took a bit over an hour and a half. But we were able to get the car back out there. During our time off track we had fallen to 50th. But we still had good race pace. In the end we were able to climb back to 38th and see the checkered flag.”

Despite being faced with seemingly impossible odds, the team never gave in and they finished strong, placing 53rd out of 93 teams Overall  in a competition where it seemed odds were stacked against them. The team fixed catastrophic problem after catastrophic problem, and kept chugging along until they crossed the finish line, showing everyone at the competition what it means to be a part of the Wolfpack. 

“It wasn’t the competition we were hoping for. But we continually persisted and made the best out of bad situations,” Fijen said. “We learned a lot this competition year on the challenges related to implementing 4WD. With most of the car having to be redesigned around it. We’ll build on these hard learned lessons and come back stronger next year.”

From everyone at MAE, the Baja SAE team has our utmost respect and appreciation for always representing NC State with strength and courage as they hit the toughest terrain in motorsports. Congratulations on another great season, we can’t wait to see what you do next year.