AKRON  The University of Akron’s (UA) engineering design team test drove their vehicle successfully on Nov. 18 in preparation for a four-day competition in Gorman, California. Named after the university’s mascot Zippy, Zips Baja team has a goal to place within the top 10 in overall performance at the April event.

The student-run team participates regularly in intercollegiate design and racing competitions called Baja SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). Baja vehicles are similar in appearance to dune buggies and the students build it to withstand racing on harshest off-road terrain. The students tested new components for their vehicle on flat, paved road and everything held together, running smoothly. Future plans include more test drives on progressively rougher tracks in preparation for competition.

As with most Baja SAE competitions, Baja SAE California is broken up into a variety of static and dynamic events that judge design, efficiency, functionality, and producibility. Dynamic events - like the traditional four hour endurance race - test the bajas in action on the track. Static events include written reports on cost, safety inspections, and design presentations. 110 teams from across the world will be competing.

Each team orders a regulated engine from Baja SAE California. It is up to the students to design the rest of the vehicle around the engine. Suspension leader Zachary Gnaboh explained that the best way to place the highest is to have the lightest vehicle.

"Naturally, the lighter you are, the faster you can go because there’s less stuff for the motor to move," he said. "But you can only get so light before stuff starts breaking. We have to make sure our parts are tough enough to handle the endurance race and still light(weight)," he said.

Gnaboh, a North Canton native, graduated from GlenOak High School before enrolling at UA as a mechanical engineering major. His part of the team designed and tested out a new wheel hub, which cut out 1.5 pounds of excess weight.

"In the scope of things, that’s actually quite a lot," Gnaboh said. "Once you get to a certain point, it’s hard to save weight. The lightest car we’ve seen is just under 300 pounds."

Goal weight for the vehicle is 340 pounds, down from last year’s weight of 370 pounds. Already, the tie rods in the steering system have been changed from steel to aluminum, the roatars on the brakes are custom, as are the wheel hubs.

In fact, the students utilize 3D software called SOLIDWORKS to estimate approximate weight before the piece is even constructed. They can even print these parts into plastic prototypes to get a handheld look at the part. After everything checks out with the software, the students manufacture 85 percent of the parts they need in the workshop on UA campus.

"According to SOLIDWORKS, we made our 340 weight goal," said Liz Clifford, co-captain of Zips Baja and third-year mechanical engineering major at UA. "It’s once we start manufacturing things, how many pounds duct tape are we going to use? That’s where a lot of our extra weight came from last year."

The team will remedy this issue by planning out more in the design phase for this year. Clifford leads the brake design. She joined team because it balances attention to detail with playing outside.

"It’s an outlet from school," she said. "We get to use what we learned in classes and actually apply them to something we love."

The Zips Baja team hopes to have the vehicle assembled and ready for more rigorous testing in March. Major team design leaders include Co-Captain Tyler Elfers in drivetrain, Clifford in brakes, Gnabah in suspension, Louis Lamosek in frame and Justin Crone in steering.