Montana Technological University Baja Team Places Top Ten in Premier SAE Competition

baja team places top ten in SAE competition
Montana Tech's SAE Baja drivers Kaine Leong and Jessika Harman after a successful 84 laps in four hours at this year's competition in Arizona.

Montana Technological University students placed 8th in endurance, and 9th overall at the Baja SAE Validation Event held April 29 through May 2 in Tucson, Arizona. Baja SAE is one of several Collegiate Design Series competitions organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International.

Nucor corporate sponsor
"Nucor proudly supports Montana
Technological University as
a trusted partner and source
of top talent. Working with
the Baha Club, for us,
naturally strengthens the
relationship. The goal has been
to fosteran organic and
productive partnership with the
hands-on engineering students
of Baja."
Airika McClafferty,
Nucor Metallurgist

Baja SAE, the most rugged of all SAE competitions, requires students to design, build, and race a single-seat off-road vehicle in a highly modified motocross course.

Montana Tech mechanical engineering students designed and built the vehicle as their capstone senior design project. The seniors used their accumulated engineering knowledge to design critical components of the vehicle: frame, suspension, and for the first time, a four-wheel-drive system. Although a four-wheel-drive was not required, the team was awarded bonus points for the four-wheel-drive system.

The Baja SAE Validation Event included acceleration, sled pull, maneuverability, and suspension. The event culminated with a four-hour-long endurance race, testing the vehicle’s ability to withstand and negotiate rough terrain and obstacles designed to damage the vehicle, including trenches, logs, hills, rocks, loose sand, and a tire pit. Montana Tech’s vehicle proved to be highly durable as it never required repairs during the endurance event.

Peter Lucon
"Nucor provided the steel that was
used to fabricate the buggy.
Nucor engineers and technicians
provided feedback and questions
during the design reviews,
which required the students to
defend and justify their design.
By having industry involvement,
the interaction between students
and industry encourages the
students to take their design to
the next level because they
view it as presenting to
a future employer. Their
attitude changed from contributing
in a senior design project to
building an engineering portfolio
that will be used to market
themselves upon graduation."
Dr. Peter Lucon,
Assistant Professor,
Mechanical Engineering

The design team included Montana Tech mechanical engineering seniors James Armstrong, Jackson Burt, Cory Farstveet, Ryder Gilmore, Scott Hanen, Nathaniel Hicks, Kaine Leong, Philip Schmidt, and Branden Smith. The senior design team started the vehicle design in September, which resulted in a working vehicle in mid-April. The design experience mimicked real-world design constraints, where the team had to perform design reviews with the faculty advisors and a team of engineers at Nucor Corporation, Montana Tech’s primary Baja SAE industrial sponsor.

Regarding Nucor's involvement Dr. Peter Lucon, one of the team mentors shared," “We would like to thank Nucor for their support in funding and also their time from their engineers and technicians for attending engineering design reviews. Their support enabled us to design and build a jig table, which Nucor had fabricated by Hawe Steel Design here in Butte, MT. Our seniors assembled the welding jig table, which allowed them to discover firsthand their own oversights. This, in turn, allowed the students to go back to their Baja vehicle design and enabled them to foresee design issues they would have not otherwise found until fabrication."

The design and build process included team engagement with practicing engineers, which is critical to provide students with a realistic engineering environment to hone and demonstrate their technical and presentation skills. Nucor metallurgist and Montana Tech alumnus Airika McClafferty wrote, “We aim to put these engineers in direct contact with Nucor Teammates allowing for collaboration while also displaying the multi-faceted skills Montana Tech students develop. We look forward to building a strong partnership with Baja that results in their achievement at competition and synergy with Nucor.”

Club members Declan Gaub, Jessika Harman, Samuel Kraha, Kaine Leong, Laci Lien, and Austin Walsh attended the validation event in Arizona.

The team was mentored by Drs. Nathan Huft and Peter Lucon, Mechanical Engineering faculty members, with the aid of Dr. Tim Troutman, Mechanical Engineering Department Industrial Advisory Board Member.

baja team 2021
Montana Tech’s SAE Baja competing
team members. Back, left Dr. Nathan Huft,
Austin Walsh, Laci Lien, Declan Gaub;
Front, left Jessika Harman, Samuel Kraha,
Kaine Leong, and Dr. Peter Lucon.

Mechanical Engineering Department Head Jack Skinner states, “Achieving a top-ten finish in the Baja SAE contest is an honor for our Baja team and indicative of the quality of our Mechanical Engineering Program at Montana Tech. We will have a reserved number in the event next year, which is only given to the top ten finishers. Each year Baja teams have to sign up, and only the first 100 teams to register are allowed to compete in the contest. Our Montana Tech team (8th place) finished the endurance event ranked after Georgia Tech (5th place) and Virginia Tech (6th place) and before Texas A&M University (11th place). Professors Lucon and Huft are already planning on how to improve our design for next year.”

Montana Tech Baja would like to thank its sponsors, Nucor Corporation, Montana Tech Foundation, the Associated Students of Montana Tech, the Department of Mechanical Engineering and this year's DayOne donors.

For more information on the Mechanical Engineering Department at Montana Tech, please visit

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