MTSU student engineering team gears up for Baja co...

MTSU student engineering team gears up for Baja competition in Illinois

Team captain Sam Fassnacht and other members of the MTSU Baja team have been putting final touches on this year’s off-road vehicle before heading to Illinois for the 2017 Baja SAE Collegiate Design Competition.

“What we really need right now is the skilled part,” said Fassnacht, an MTSU senior from Alabama who’s majoring in electromechanical engineering technology.

MTSU hopes to drive out more than 100 competitors at the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, regional contest set for Wednesday through Saturday, June 7-10, at the Caterpillar Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in Peoria, Illinois.

MTSU professor Saeed Foroudastan, left, faculty mentor and adviser for the university’s Experimental Vehicle Program, looks on as MTSU Baja Society of Automotive Engineers team members Sam Fassnacht, in red shirt, and David Hasty make final tweaks to the vehicle that will compete June 7-10 in Illinois at the 2017 Baja SAE Collegiate Design Competition. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

Like other competitors, the MTSU Baja team had to design, build and test an actual open-air vehicle featuring roll bars. They will compete in a four-hour endurance test in Illinois that involves obstacles that Fassnacht describes as “wood-like and muddy,” hoping that the improvements the team has made on the vehicle will pay off.

According to the Baja SAE website, “the object of the competition is to provide SAE student members with a challenging project that involves the design, planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market.”

The MTSU team is part of the Department of Engineering Technology’s Experimental Vehicles Program. The Baja squad has been working on the small buggy-like car since fall at the Voorhies Engineering Technology facilities on campus, with a total of two test runs out at the MTSU farm in Lascassas, Tennessee. Fassnacht said the test runs proved important.

“The first test run we had a really big problem,” he said. “Some of the tubing is really thin so it sheared off, but since then we’ve added a whole bunch of other things to improve this.”

Although he was part of the 2015 MTSU Baja design team, this will be the first time vice captain Mikhail Ault-Normandie, a junior from Covington, Tennessee, will be attending the event. The mechanical engineering major looks forward to competing and has watched videos of past contests to make sure he is prepared.

And this year’s team has made other adjustments to the car to comply with rule changes since MTSU last competed two years ago.

“The gas tank can no longer be attached to the engine anymore, so we had to make a new bar and use support to the frame itself,” Ault-Normandie said.

Students and faculty involved in MTSU Experimental Vehicles Program stand with the Baja off-road vehicle built by students that will compete June 7-10 at the 2017 Baja Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Competition in Illinois. Pictured, from left, are: MTSU professor Saeed Foroudastan, students Joel Clements, Eli Little, David Henderson, Mikhail Ault-Normandie (seated), Sam Fassnacht, Dustin Falls and David Hasty; and Rick Taylor, lab director. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

The MTSU crew plans to leave Tuesday night and have been working into night in recent weeks to fine tune the vehicle.

“As long as nothing breaks I feel that we’ll do well,” Ault-Normandie said. “I know a couple of years ago we were in the 40th place, so maybe we can get somewhere up there a little bit higher than last time.”

Professor Saeed Foroudastan, associate dean in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, serves as the university’s Experimental Vehicle Program’s faculty mentor and adviser. Other members of the Baja team are students Tarq Alanazi, Talal Aleisa, Dayana Edison, Syed Bukhari, David Hasty, Brad Hobbs, Korissas Earls, and Joel Clements; and lab director Rick Taylor.

For a complete Baja competition schedule and more, visit

— Jayla Jackson (