TTU students dominate Mini Baja race, win East, preparing for West

This year's car will be faster than ever," said team captain Florin Marcu just a few weeks ago as Tennessee Tech's Mini Baja team headed to West Virginia to defend the 2001 title.

After two days of driving a car James Bond could be proud of -- one that travels over rough terrain and through water -- the team backed up that bold prediction, bringing home the winner's trophy from the Mini Baja East competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The Tennessee Tech team outdrove the traditional engineering schools' entries from Georgia Institute of Technology, Syracuse, Rochester Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon and more than 40 other universities to take the top spot. Tennessee Tech is one of the most successful Mini Baja teams in history with 18 top three finishes, including nine 1st place finishes.

"Consistency was the key," said Marcu. "Our car was the overall dominant car in the water and on land. Other competitors don't like that we have a very functional look, but a rugged car that's simple to repair can't be beat."

Briggs and Stratton Corp. donated 10-horsepower lawn mower engines to all teams. But getting the most power and adequate floatation from the all-terrain vehicle is up to each group.

Team member Mike Deschamps said competitors tried several unusual tactics to compete with TTU's more traditional design.

"There were a few hydraulic-powered cars that couldn't even finish, one with jet ski propulsion, one with propellers and one with paddles on the wheels," said Deschamps. "But our design was the most predictable. Our simple pontoon flotation device between the wheels gave us stability and power." 

Following the self-imposed rule that anyone who works on the car earns the right to drive it, the car also had to accommodate a 300-pound football player or a 100-pound female team member as drivers and still perform well. 

"It's an ergonomic challenge, but one that's worth it," said Marcu, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall and glad the driver's seat can be adjusted.

Bolstered by the winning performance, the team is off to Milwaukee from May 30 through June 2 for the Mini Baja West contest. 

"We'll be facing rougher terrain, competing against twice as many cars, but not having to run through water," said team member Patrick Currier.

This year's team members included Marcu, Deschamps, Currier, Scott Pierce, Ross Bagwell, Aaron Baird, Evan Ballard, David Drake, Andrew Edmiston, Justin Stacy, Daniel Sullivan and Jaclyn Wyatt.