The 10th edition of Mahindra SAE BAJA 2017 was held at NATRAX, Pithampur, near Indore, amidst much fanfare among students all over the country. With over 5000 students from 185 colleges, this was BAJA’s most successful edition.

SAE BAJA 2017 Banner
The 10th edition of Mahindra SAE BAJA was held in Pithampur near Indore, as usual

It was in the month of June, 2016, when students raced against time to complete and showcase their designs in the virtual round, which would ultimately decide whether or not they would move to the next round. Post the virtuals, another major challenge awaited the students. That of building and successfully running a go anywhere, do anything All Terrain Vehicle, commonly known as ATV.

SAE BAJA 2017 Circuit
Sitemap of the nearly 5.5km endurance track

Although preparations began way back in July 2016, it was no easy task for the students, battling challenges of all sorts to somehow make it through to the February deadline. And boy did all of them do well, the level variety and creativity that teams were able to achieve within the constraints of the rulebook was baffling, to say the least. Whether it was design innovation or mechanical brilliance, weight reduction or altered transmission ratios, in every part of the vehicle you could witness a never seen before innovation in some or the other team. Such is the quality of engineers here in India, they were brilliant beyond any reasonable doubt.

SAE BAJA 2017 Vehicles
It doesn’t get more crowded than this!

When the day finally arrived, the otherwise deserted locality of Pithampur was buzzing around with over 5000 humans trying to find their place in the dirt, quite literally! courtesy Mahindra & Mahindra, the title sponsors and conveners of BAJA since its inception.  Although the competition began a few days in advance, with the technical inspection, brake and acceleration tests, maneuverability and suspension tests etc. the media was invited only for the final endurance race. For those new to the BAJA conventions, all vehicles undergo very stringent tests with regard to safety of the driver as well as other vehicles. For example, no ATV was permitted to go further in the competition unless and until every one of the four wheels locked under braking.

SAE BAJA 2017 Race
ATVs had to traverse all kinds of rough terrain

Heading into Raceday, the rules were fairly simple this time around. 4 hours over a 5.5 km track, which to be honest seemed way too difficult to tread through, for it passed through literally all kinds of terrain, some of them which even our good old SUV’s would shy away from. It didn’t matter who was ahead or behind, all one had to do was complete as many laps as possible within the given time frame. Obviously accomplishing such a feat was even more difficult as the weather spared no mercy, with temperatures crossing 35 degrees at times.

SAE BAJA 2017 Mudpool
Visibility was also hampered on every lap on passing through the muddy pool

As the whistle blew, over 150 cars tried left, right and center to make way through one of the biggest dust storms I have witnessed. It was hard to keep track of the race at all times due to the vast length of the circuit. Fortunately, Mahindra had arranged for live streaming of the race on the big screen so as to keep everyone in the loop. Also towards the latter part of the race, a media vehicle was arranged by them to take us through the proceedings along a parallel service road. This gave a much different perspective of the race which made me appreciate the effort of the teams even more.

SAE BAJA 2017 Terrain
The muddy pool was one of the most challenging parts of the track, and Vehicles often had to be manually pulled out

As is customary with any and every race, there can only be one winner. And for the 2107 edition, College of Engineering, Pune was that winner, as usual. They also bagged most of the other static and dynamic awards. No doubt this journey, although short was one of the better experiences I have had, what took me by surprise the most was how well each team handled breakdowns, got things done mid race, and still managed to cross the finish line. It simply speaks volumes about the fact that even the most perfect things are plagued with problems, but it is how efficiently and effectively those problems are solved, under pressure and in minimum time, that is where the good become great and the great become the best. And just to give an idea of the league in which this event was conducted, the lightest ATV weighed 127 kg, down from 324 kg in the inaugural edition. Go figure!

SAE BAJA 2017 Breakdown
A special mention to the volunteers, who worked tirelessly to bring the cars back on track and keep the tempo of the race high