Pennsylvania College of Technology – Baja SAE Racing Team

This spring, we had the opportunity to support PCT’s Baja SAE racing team with a donation of titanium for their vehicle. We interviewed Clinton Bettner, Team Captain, to see how their vehicle fared in this year’s competitions.

PTG: Tell us a little bit about the history of the team. How many team members do you currently have?

Clinton: Our team started in 2006 by some of the students that discovered the competition. They talked our advisor John Upcraft into putting a team and a car together for the competition in Wisconsin that year. When comparing our team to many of the schools we are competing with, we are a fairly young program, but with 4 top 10 finishes in endurance the last 5 years, I believe that we have shown that we are a program that can compete on the highest level.

This year we have 11 members on our team. This increase from previous years allowed us to undertake many new aspects of the design and building of the Baja vehicle. The amount of improvements that we have been able to make the past two years have been very large steps for our program, and also bringing in new team members as freshmen or sophomores has really helped the development and the carryover between the teams season to season

PTG: How long have you personally been on the team for and what is your role?

Clinton: This was my third year on the team. Last year I was the Vehicle Captain, this year the Team Captain. It’s a lot of work to keep this project on track for our goals – it could be a full time job, but it all has to be balanced with classes, school work, and a pretty much non-existent social life besides being in the shop. The experience is like no other, and provides great real life engineering challenges in almost every aspect from product design, manufacturing, and testing, to accounting, leadership, and marketing.

PTG: What were your team’s goals for this year’s competition?

Clinton: Our goals for this year are very much like they have been in the past. Unfortunately, in the Maryland competition last year, we were plagued with many issues during the 4-hour endurance race that prevented us from finishing the race.  This year the emphasis was on testing, and tuning the driveline, collecting data that can then be used to design the next version of the vehicle. Finishing all of the events was one of our primary objectives this year, carefully looking at our failed components and making spares would hopefully keep us out racing. We have proven that we have a tough car with our previous endurance finishes, but all it takes in one part to fail to put an end to your day.

PTG: Which competitions did your team attend this year? How’d they go?

Clinton: This is actually the first year that we had been able to attend more than one competition, the first was at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, TN. We did very well in the dynamic events like the sled pull and maneuverability, and were well prepared for the endurance race. We started from 33rd position on the grid and were in the top 5 after the first 45 minutes. By the time we made our first fuel stop we were in 3rd place, and shortly after that we made the move to 2nd place and averaging 8-9 seconds faster lap times that the leader. We were in 2nd for about half an hour when our driver was bounced out of the line he had been taking by a small stump and into a tree with our left rear trailing arm. This

unfortunately happened at close to our top speed and it snapped our chromoly tubular trailing arm in half and caused about an hour and a half of time off course due to the tow back to the pits and the subsequent emergency repair of the trailing arm. We ended finishing in 36th position and 30th overall.

Our second competition was in Rochester, NY at Rochester Institute of Technology. We were able to be much more prepared for this event due to the month and a half from the Tennessee competition. Preparation is key and we quickly made it through our technical inspection and brake test on our first attempt. Our sales and design presentations were able to be improved upon, and during the dynamic events we were able to secure a 2nd place finish in suspension and traction, and 20th in maneuverability, our acceleration and hill climb scores were not quite where we anticipated them being, and are looking at those areas strongly next year. The endurance race is what we like to think is the most fun, and most important event and we were prepared much better this competition than we have ever been in the past. We started in 59th position due to our acceleration score, but being a 4 hour race it’s best to just give it time instead of trying to push too hard at the beginning. With a level headed driver and the best car we could bring, we began to quickly advance lap by lap, before too long we were in the top 20, and then the top ten, then in the last hour it became a battle for each position, we were able to make it as high as 4th place, then were passed back on the final lap and finished in 5th place. Every year the competition with the top teams gets tougher and tougher as everyone is doing all they can to make their cars better and faster than everyone else. We feel good about our 5th place finish as it was hard fought and a reflection on how good everyone else’s cars are getting. With all the events completed we finished 11th overall, just missing out on the top 10 by a few points. To date this is our best finish overall in our 10 years competing, and is a mark to improve upon in the future.

PTG: Why choose titanium for your vehicle? Is it something you’ve used before, or was this the first time? We supplied your team with 6AL-6V-2SN 5” Dia – how was this used? Did you machine it yourself or outsource it to a machine shop?

Clinton: Part of the challenge of the Baja SAE series is having to use an unmodified 10hp Briggs and Stratton engine, this evens the playing field for all the teams and forces the emphasis on the other systems on the vehicle used to translate that 10hp into the best performing vehicle you can dream up. This means that weight of components is a primary design consideration, the lighter the car is, the more effective that 10hp will be, this is why we choose to use titanium for our critical strength components. We have used titanium a little bit in some suspension components, but we are looking in every area to save weight as it all adds up much faster than you realize. We used the supplied 6-6-2 material in the construction of our new rear trailing arm design to reduce the weight as much as possible while still keeping the strength required to endure all the high stresses put forth from all the dynamic events and the 4- hour endurance race.

One of the great things about our school is our manufacturing facilities, we have access to almost every manufacturing method and we take pride in machining as much as we can ourselves. Titanium definitely poses a few challenges to machine if you aren’t familiar with it, and enjoyed working through them with these new parts.

You can find out more about PCT’s Baja SAE racing team and follow their progress at the links below: