LAKE LINDEN - Universities from across the Midwest tested their design and driving skills in this year's Winter Baja competition, held Saturday in Lake Linden.
The race is held in addition to the national collegiate Baja competitions run by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
In Baja, teams design and build off-road vehicles that can be safer alternatives to ATVs and dirt bikes. They do have some constraints: teams all have to use a stock 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton Engine, and the vehicle's price has to be comparable to similar vehicles on the market.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Three Baja vehicles manuever for position during Michigan Technological University’s Winter Baja competition in Lake Linden Saturday. Participants said it takes up to two years of design and fabrication work to create the vehicles.
Central Michigan University came in first, followed by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Michigan State University. Central also won the "Dirty Dozen" race following the end of the official Baja run.
UW-Milwaukee's car broke down last year in a race, leading the team to revamp it with an eye on durability.
"This car wasn't the fastest, but it was never out once due to failure," said team member Mitch Crawford.
Michigan Technological University member Nathan Koetsier was happy with how his squad performed.
"For the first time on a track, it ran really well," he said.
As host, Tech started building the trail in the middle of January. Though the high temperatures of last week caused concern, the more recent cold snap helped.
The end result still had its wet patches, as grime-covered vehicles tussled through what the announcer called "a mud bath."
"The mud is a lot better because you get a lot more traction," Koetsier said. "You can just put the pedal down."
Milwaukee also welcomed the mud. But the ice created over the past few days' cooldown made control difficult; with the changing conditions and the wear from the vehicles, the track they started on wasn't the one on which they finished.
"Those steps changed every other lap," said Milwaukee member Andrew Block.
Tech's team also raced in a fall competition at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and will next head to the national competition in Kansas.
Between design and fabrication, teams spend two years on their vehicles before they make it to a race.
"Some nights, you would get in at 5 at night and you wouldn't leave until three in the morning," Crawford said. "Then you balance that with school, work and social life. It's challenging, but we love it."