Aztec Baja Racing team to rally their student-built off-road buggy at season finale

An in-depth look at SDSU’s Aztec Baja SAE who take part in the Mexican-originated motorsport

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Xiomara Villarreal-Gerardo

Manuel Aldana works on the Aztec Baja Racing team’s vehicle in preparation for this year’s race, Sep. 12, 2022.

by Xiomara Villarreal-Gerardo, Managing Editor & Mundo Azteca Editor

Each year, San Diego State’s Aztec Baja Society of Automotive Engineers team initiates their plan to design, fabricate and race an off-road buggy. As the 2022 season comes to an end, the Aztecs will hit the road to the Baja SAE Arizona where they will take on national and international university teams from Sep. 29 to Oct. 2

The Baja SAE competitions serve as a model for real-world engineering design projects where students are challenged with constructing an off-road vehicle that can endure the punishing effects of rough terrain.

Aztec Baja SAE president and mechanical engineering senior, Manuel Aldana, said the team is striving to build on their success from their most recent races and use it to position their car in the top places in Arizona. Aldana also underlined how meaningful it is for family members to come and support the team given Arizona is one of their local races.

“We have a strong momentum pushing forward and we’re hoping to give it our all to get a podium finish or top place in Arizona,” Aldana said. “And Arizona really means a lot to us since some of our parents or siblings will be there.”

In 2020 and 2021, the team began designing and manufacturing their first ever four-wheel drive (4WD) Aztec Baja car. They were able to finish the design in 2022 and implement it in their car for competitions in the season. Using their new 4WD, the Aztec Baja team finished 15th place at the Baja SAE Tennessee Tech competition. They went on to achieve first place in suspension and traction placing 8th overall at the Rochester Institute of Technology competition in New York.

Abel Estrada, sophomore mechanical engineering major and lead of suspension at Aztec Baja SAE, depicted the story behind their recent races and expressed his feelings towards obtaining good positions at their first two competitions of the season.

The Aztec Baja Racing team poses with their off-road vehicle following a race. (Aztec Baja Racing)

“It was a really great feeling and especially after putting so much work into the car,” Estrada said. “We actually didn’t get to do much testing because we were very short on time so when we took it out in Tennessee, that was kind of like the first time we drove the car, but then in New York, we just redefined everything and did way better overall.”

 

The Mexican off-road motorsport originated in 1967 when Ed Pearlman founded the National Off-Road Racing Association and the first Baja 1000 was arranged to run in Baja California, Mexico from Tijuana to La Paz. From that moment on, the annual Baja 1000 has become one of the most prestigious and savage off-road races in the world.

Aztec Baja SAE at SDSU began in 2010 as a senior design project that was entirely funded by a San Diego based company named McMillin Racing, which is one of the top Trophy Truck racing teams in Baja California, Mexico and the United States. In 2014, the first Aztec Baja car was built on the SDSU campus, and the following year the team became an officially recognized club at the university. Yet, it was not until 2017 when the Aztecs first competed in all three SAE competitions.

One of the reasons Estrada joined the Aztec Baja SAE team was because of the culture behind Baja Racing and the experiences he had with his family when he was younger.

“I think that is probably why it caught more of my attention, because culturally wise, I would go out into the desert and just go off-roading and stuff with my cousins and family members,” Estrada said.

Mexico has a great influence on student race teams in the United States and other nations through Baja Racing. The SAE competitions have teams from all across the nation, Brazil, Canada and Mexico racing throughout the season.

“Everybody just comes together for an off-road race where we watch each other’s cars compete, and it’s a big deal of fun for everybody,” Aldana said.

Aside from the enjoyment of Aztec Baja, the organization also offers students the opportunity to gain skills, knowledge and experience in hands-on mechanical engineering that can greatly extend their career opportunities. Aldana credits being a part of Aztec Baja SAE for landing his dream internship this summer.

“This past summer 2022, I got to intern for Solar Turbines here in San Diego which was really my dream internship,” Aldana said.

“If it wasn’t for Aztec Baja, I don’t think I would have been able to get this internship because I was able to bring in some past knowledge that I learned on this team and apply it to the task I was given at my internship.”

With encouragement, Estrada said students should join the Aztec Baja SAE team since it is a good challenge for those seeking to learn.

Aldana states that Aztec Baja SAE can be followed on social media and is open to all majors, backgrounds, and skill levels. The team is happy to help any student interested in expanding their skills outside the classroom and having fun in the meantime.