Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 29, 2023

Hopkins Baja provides opportunities to apply engineering skills outside the classroom

By AIMEE CHO | February 23, 2023



Members of Hopkins Baja pose with their car at a Baja SAE competition. 

Blue Jay Racing, also known as Hopkins Baja, is an undergraduate engineering design team that builds an off-road vehicle to compete against more than 100 other university teams in the Baja SAE. Baja SAE consists of three competitions that annually take place in the early summer. In the competitions, the vehicles are judged on diverse criteria including design, sales presentation, acceleration and sled pull.

To compete in Baja SAE, the club goes through a long cycle of manufacturing vehicles each year. In an interview with The News-Letter, Team Captain Lance Phillips described that their design process begins in the summer, trying to reduce the weight of the car as much as possible to make it faster. Most of their manufacturing happens during the intersession when most members voluntarily stay on campus to build their car. By the spring semester, they carry out business presentations and test their cars.

“In general, the more we test, the better we do in the competition, so it’s important to have that done as early as possible,“ he said. “Once it's tested, we start going through driver training, which is super fun because anyone can actually do that, even freshmen.”

Each Baja SAE competition is four days long. In static events, teams make design presentations and business presentations to professionals in each field. The driving of cars happens on dynamic days, in which the teams compete based on each criterion such as suspension (driving across numerous obstacles) and acceleration among many others. The competition ends with a four-hour endurance race on the last day.

Last year, Blue Jay Racing built the 18XT, and the vehicle won third place in overall static at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech and Arizona, first place in design at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech and eighth place overall, with 802.62 points, at Baja SAE Arizona. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, member Zatara Nepomuceno said that he decided to join the club because it provided him with unique opportunities to apply what he learned in the classroom as a Mechanical Engineering major in real life. 

“I get a ton of satisfaction from everyone coming together and building a car that we spend forever working on, and when it finally comes together, the feeling is indescribable, but it's super satisfying,” he said. 

Weston Fortney, a member that joined the club this year, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that joining Baja has been one of the best decisions he has made in college thus far.

“Everyone was extremely welcoming from the beginning, and there have been a lot of great opportunities to learn more about the car and manufacturing, even as a new member,“ he wrote. “There is also a great community within the club, and there are events like drive days when everyone has an opportunity to drive the car.”

Junior and Chief Financial Officer and Vice Captain Ben Lehrer explained in an interview with The News-Letter that students can become involved at any point, with no necessary knowledge or prior experience. Nepomuceno reflected that he was taught the skills of designing cars between his freshman and sophomore summers.

Lehrer highlighted that one of his favorite parts of the club is that students can come together not only as an engineering team but also as part of a broader community.

“I love how Baja is just a big family that is at Hopkins as well as across the country and the world,” he said. “We're able to both design a car and compete at a high level, as well as just get along as friends, and have a great time doing that.”

Currently, the team is in the manufacturing phase. According to Phillips, the vehicle is at a rolling stage and is waiting on a few sponsored materials. Once they are finished with the remaining pieces, the team plans to start driving and testing the car.

“The goal [for this year] is obviously to win the competition. Aside from that, increasing our team’s knowledge is a really big priority,” he said. “Over the past few years, the knowledge we learned as a team has skyrocketed, which has been really great. It's helping us as engineers and also helping us beyond college.”

Looking forward, Nepomuceno expressed that he hopes to spread information about designing and building vehicles to more students in the future.

“Building a car is cool, and teaching everyone how to build a car is cool,” he said. “If everyone is able to hop in on the learning process, and if that's able to reach a wider audience, that's a really cool thing to see in addition to having more hands on deck.”

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