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Rebel Racers Off Road, but on Leaderboard

UNLV's Society of Automotive Engineers chapter sets high-water marks in off-road vehicle design and race competition.

People  |  Jul 27, 2017  |  By Jason Scavone
Rebel Racing driver Cody Mao puts UNLV SAE's car through the paces in Gorman, California.

Rebel Racing driver Cody Mao puts UNLV SAE's car through the paces in Gorman, California. It was the first of three events for the team during the summer. (Photo by Valentina Alayon / Rebel Racing)

Four hundred pounds of pure American ingenuity and 10 untamed horses under the hood. UNLV’s Rebel Racing packed a lot of power into a fun-sized frame as it tackled this summer’s Baja SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers’ collegiate off-road vehicle design and race competition.

UNLV SAE took 13th overall, competing across the country, from Gorman, California, in April to Pittsburg, Kansas, in May, and Peoria, Illinois, in June. It wasn’t always open air and clear traffic, though.

“We were informed there was a tornado and heavy thunderstorms coming in, so they had to halt all the events and force every single team to the shelter in place area at Pittsburg State University,” UNLV SAE president Adam Gentil said. It cost dozens of schools the chance to score points on that day.

Threats of being swept to Oz aside, UNLV had strong showings across all legs of the competition. Each stop saw teams from as many as 250 schools from around the world take part in static events (design, cost, and a sales presentation), dynamic events (acceleration, hill climb, maneuverability, sled pull, rock climb, suspension), and a four-hour endurance race to cap it off.

In California, UNLV had its best-ever showing with a fifth-place finish in the endurance race, and backed it up with 11th in Kansas and 34th in Illinois. Each event is judged separately and is counted toward a team’s final score.

As with any off-road racing, there are more pitfalls than cruising along the I-15.

“At the end of the Illinois event, we got run into by another school and damaged some components pretty bad,” Gentil said. “It should have been a 35- or 40-minute repair. We got it done in 15 minutes to get back out on the track, and we gained a spot in the endurance. There were 15 on us working on separate things. We were like ants.”

There were 25 students — of which 17 went on the road for competition — involved with SAE, which started work on this year’s model right after last year’s competition ended.

Not just an event for competition’s sake, top automotive companies attend with an eye on scouting new talent. Honda, Toyota, and Briggs & Stratton all had representatives at the event. It’s a detail not lost on the senior mechanical engineering student.

But first, there’s next year’s car to start on. Data collection on the current car and 3-D modeling on the next is already under way.

“We’ve just got to get a little bit of reliability out of the vehicle, but we’re going to go next year with the mindset of winning those events instead of finishing top five, top 10.”