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FSU Baja Team earns top 10 finish in U.P. competition

Traveling 450 miles to the great white north of Houghton Hancock is no easy trip.

Despite having only four veteran members, Ferris State University’s Baja team finished eighth out of 46 teams at the Winter Baja event in Lake Linden.

Led by automotive professors Gary Gage and Ben Upham, the 12-member team made the trek in the frigid weather and blowing snow to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Teams from Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Illinois and more competed in the event, which was hosted by Michigan Tech.

“The travel is long and tiring, but the automotive experience and testing of our cars is crucial in preparation for our annual summer Baja event,” said Gage.

Each year the Baja team designs, fabricates and constructs a new car for competition while keeping one of the cars from the previous year. Since the team’s funding is limited, one of the old cars is often scrapped and parts are used universally between vehicles. Gage and Upham advise their students on issues throughout the process, but the students do the work. This allows them the chance to learn technical, hands-on operations and to function as a team, often replicating what their experience in the work force will be like upon graduation.

Although the “big air” portion of the event was eliminated this year, the endurance race remained the same. It consisted of two heats, both two hours in length. The object was to make as many laps around a track designed to shake, rattle and roll each team’s Baja style vehicle. Ferris’ team switched drivers about every half an hour, while hot pitting to fuel up and secure any loose ends on the car.

“Team captain Sam Westendorp did an excellent job of making sure that the guys that worked the most on getting the car ready drove first and for the longest periods,” said Gage.

The team completed 58 laps between the two heats. Central Michigan won the event with 69 laps completed. The flow of teamwork combined with competition preparation exemplified the satisfaction for the team’s overall eighth-place finish at this year’s event.

“The team is growing and we have some young members, but these kids are sharp, eager to learn and willing to try new things,” said Gage. “Both professor Upham and myself are extremely proud of the guys.” n