Engineering students build working vehicle for international competition

March 15, 2021

Students build a car.

A team of six Quinnipiac engineering students are completing an all-wheel drive, off-road vehicle capable of going up to 40 miles per hour for one of the most prestigious collegiate design competitions in the world — the Baja SAE.

Alexander Petrarca ’21, a mechanical engineering major, is the lead designer for the six-member Quinnipiac team. The team plans to compete in an international competition in May in Kentucky.

“When I started this project, I was a first-semester junior with solid modeling background but minimal engineering design experience,” he recalls. “Knowing what I know now, there is much I would go back and do differently. That being said, I am still extremely proud of my work and proud to look back at how much I have learned.”

The team — also comprised of Sam Deleel '20, John Murray '20, Zachariah Polak '20, Sean Budowsky '20, Chase Briggs '20 and John Crawford ’20 — ultimately designed a single-seat, 500-pound, buggy-style vehicle with automatic transmission.

“We chose to prioritize a high-wheel torque over a high-top speed as it would allow for better acceleration, better cornering and better climbing over obstacles,” Petrarca explained.

Jeffrey Davis ’21, a mechanical engineering major, explained that the vehicle was purposefully designed to excel at the various competitions at the Baja SAE — including an acceleration test, hill climb and four-hour endurance race.

“Throughout the past two years, we have spent time planning, designing, manufacturing and testing,” he said. “The process opened my eyes to the practical applications of almost all of my engineering courses.”

Through the journey, Petrarca said learned a number of valuable leadership, design and welding skills — as well as fundamentals of race vehicle dynamics, fabrication techniques, engineering and suspension travel designs as well as metal fabrication.

“The school has been incredible,” he said. “They have given us an immaculate garage to work in and all the tools we could dream of. They have supported this project since day one.”

Jose Riofrio, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering, advised the team.

“He assisted us in both design and implementation and without his guidance, we would most likely not be able to bring this idea into fruition,” Davis said. “The School of Engineering facilities have given us amazing opportunities to manufacture parts in the machine shop and work on designs in our dedicated engineering labs. On the North Haven Campus, we appreciate and are thankful towards the Quinnipiac facilities crew for allowing us to use some of their garage space for all of our welding and assembly needs.”

He said he hopes to move forward in the field of mechanical engineering by pursuing a role in either manufacturing or design.

“I plan to use many of the skills I have learned through Baja in my professional career and hope that my actual work will be as fulfilling as this project has been,” Davis said.

The experience has already paid off for Petrarca, who recently accepted a full-time mechanical design job in the aerospace industry in California.

“This project has made me realize my love for design and I have always been interested in space so it is a dream come true,” he said. “This project was all I talked about during the interview and the experiences I gained from it are what secured me the position.”

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