105 open wheeled cars, over 2500 petrol-headed engineering students and enough adrenalin to jump from the moon, that pretty much gave an idea about the atmosphere in Indore during the 2013 iteration of the BAJA SAE India. Pithampur, a small town on the outskirts of Indore, MP was ready for one of the grandest stage to showcase their creations. A yearlong effort into designing, analysing, fabricating, testing and in case something goes wrong, a bit of jugaad too; all of which culminated into a 4-day long competition to determine the numero uno engineering college of India.
Since its inception in 2007, this event has grown from a mere 27 team event to a whopping 262 team mega-event. The entire process starts in the month of March where the colleges start forming a team of a maximum of 25 members dedicated to do just one thing, design and engineer a single seat ATV which will simply knock the heels off the competition. The 250+ teams are allowed to showcase their designs and give enough data along with it to validate its safety and performance at the Virtual BAJA event. Here the shortlisting begins and this year the number of teams was upped to 120 who were given the approval to build their vehicles. The maximum teams this year came from Pune. The motoring capital of India spawned as many as 16 teams. September to January, i.e. a period of 5 months is allotted for the completion of the vehicle shortlisted for college level scrutiny in order to check whether the vehicle is safe and meets all the regulations specified while the D-days rather the four day mega-event is planned during the second weekend of February.
The first day starts with an even detailed safety check in order to proceed any further. Engine settings, vehicle dimensions, fluid leakages check, safety gear, weight, steering abilities and finally the most important brake test are carried out. In fact the tests are so stringent that the first day saw only 6 teams clearing all the mentioned tests. The second day began with the remaining teams clearing the inspection and once done they move on to static events where vehicle designs, costings and marketability are evaluated.
The teams which get their static events clear with time to spare in the day move onto the dynamic events which saw just a handful of 10 teams attempting the acceleration patch where the quickest car in a dirt strip of 150 feet is declared the winner and only 3 teams which were all Pune, took on the hill climb event where the vehicles had to climb up another 150 feet with a gradient of 25 degrees. The next day commences with all the technically cleared teams expected to clear their static as well as the dynamic events including an additional one which is the most difficult of them all – the manoeuvrability test. Here the vehicles are made to take on obstacles like opposite banking turns, ditches, sand pits, dirt mounds, slush and finally logs of wood. The ones who are through with all these events are then allowed to get a feel of what they would be experiencing to the next day – the endurance track.
The most anticipated, gruelling and fearsome race what ultimately decides the eventual fate of the teams and their buggies takes place on the fourth and final day and lasts for an enduring 3hours. As the name states, endurance and sustainability is the key for both the man and machine. The start line grid is decided by the acceleration test results. On pole position, for the second year in succession, were College of Engineering Pune followed by Shri G.S. Institute of Science and Tech, Indore in second and Sinhgad Academy of Engineering, Pune in third. The competition is cut-throat with the first and the third vehicle separated by a miniscule 0.17s. The defending race winners, AISSMS College of Engineering, Pune looked lost with clutch problems affecting their acceleration.
Even the ever consistent PESMCOE, were hampered with shifting problems and started on the third row of the pyramidal grid. The start of the race saw College of Engineering Pune pull away from the entire field whereas SHRI G.S. INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECH and Sinhgad Academy of Engineering dropped a few places. But the real gainers were AISSMS, PESMCOE and rookies Sinhgad College of Engineering, Pune who quickly got into the top 15. AISSMS, with their professional VW Polo Cup driver Oshan Kothadiya behind the wheel, comfortably made places upto 8th spot after which disaster struck as the rose joints from their front suspension sheared off thereby forcing them to head out into repair mode (View : Mahindra SAE India Baja 2013 teams).
The race positions remained steady till the expected pit-stop window opened and here team strategy came into play. The top running teams sought to come into the pits with just 30-35 mins into the race so as to play it safe, but a few bold ones like Sinhgad Academy of Engineering who were way back in 9th position came in at almost an hour into the race pitted and gained places and were back into contention in 4th place.
But here’s where the actual disaster struck for most of the teams and it plagued the front-runners too. Sinhgad Academy of Engineering were just about to gain third spot when a backmarker decided to slow down thereby hampering Sinhgad Academy of Engineering’s progress as well. The driver, Aditya Nalawade, tried everything in his might to minimise the eventual damage but to no avail. PESMCOE driver, Tanmay Ugale, also faced a similar problem where as he was overtaking another backmarker, who tried to block his path thinking of him as a potential race position fighter with the two making contact this damaging PESMCOE’s car. Quick and calm thinking got them back into the race but they lost a huge chunk of time in repairs.
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