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Youth power races to the top in Pretoria

RAHUL THEKDI | Updated on January 22, 2018

The ATV which triumphed in Pretoria

Moment of pride The group of students which worked on the ATV project in Pretoria.

How a team of students from VJTI Mumbai triumphed at Baja South Africa

With barely 50 minutes to go in the four-hour race, Gaurang Dharap and his teammates faced a nerve-racking moment when their car toppled breaking the driver shift. “We thought the race was over for us,” recalls Dharap.

It was a do or die moment but their team spirit came to the fore at this critical juncture. Within minutes, the seven students of the Mumbai-based Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) fixed the problem by tightening the loose bolts and brought their prized baby back on track. Eventually, they ended up triumphant at Baja South Africa 2015.

This was the first ever international outing for the VJTI team and victory was doubly sweet as it was not only the overall winner but also emerged tops in four independent events. Months of hard work and bonding paid off rich dividends as the Mumbai boys raced to the top in Pretoria.

Global playing field

An annual event, Baja is an engineering competition where students from across the world, design and manufacture a single seat all-terrain vehicle (ATV). The event has gained rapid traction in India too where young participants have a field day with their products. The vehicles are evaluated on parameters like design, endurance and performance. Baja SA 2015 was held in Pretoria, South Africa, in end-October this year.

The seeds for this triumphant journey were sown in September last year when the enthusiastic group of 25 started preparing for the big day scheduled a year later. The college did its bit by giving the students enough flexibility in striking the balance between attending classes and working on the project.

Clearly, the enthusiasm had rubbed off on the faculty too which realised that the event mattered a great deal in enhancing the institute’s brand. The script was progressing nicely and the VJTI students were now ready for the plunge.

On arriving in South Africa, the team had to first assemble the car which took around three days before being ready for testing. After clearing the three basic parameters of qualification -- technical, engine and breaks -- the students began gearing up for the series dynamic events. Of the 11 teams which participated, six made it to the final round.

Interestingly, these international do not award money to the winning teams unlike what happens in India. “They want us to learn and not just earn,” says Mehta. International events also give students a thorough feedback, again a practice alien to Indian organisers. “Out here, newcomers do not know where they need to improve,” chips in Satra.

One of the major disadvantages the team faced in its preparedness was in the poor technological infrastructure back home in India. According to the students, many engineering colleges lack testing and manufacturing facilities which is not an issue for students from other countries.

The tide is slowly changing with Indian institutes now encouraging students to participate in such events. “Our engineers need to have practical experience. Events like these actually prepare us for work life ahead,” says Hardik Thakkar.

Sweet victory

Still revelling in their triumph, the VJTI team recalls the sweet moments in Pretoria. “Other teams were very happy to see our car and the judges complimented our work,” adds Mihir Mehta. It is a sentiment echoed by the organisers of the event.

“They clearly put in a lot of work and were proud of their car. It all paid off in the end,” says Michael Victor, technical specialist of Baja SA 2015. The bar of these competitions has risen with the average weight of cars reducing gradually. “With steady reduction in weight and increase in vehicle performance, there will probably be a reduction in (vehicle) reliability. It will be interesting to see how students manage this tradeoff,” adds Victor.

Competitions like Baja also help students from the viewpoint of creating job placement opportunities. “Through your car, companies want to see how you can apply your knowledge in practice,” says Dharap who is heading out to Bajaj Auto.

The VJTI team also has a word of advice to future participants keen to emulate this victory. Testing your car well before the competition is always advisable and light components make a significant difference to overall performance.

The team will now be taking its ATV to Baja India 2016. “We expect the competition there to be tougher, at least in the dynamic events,” says Dharap. Meanwhile, a batch of junior VJTI students is set to enter the competition and has started to design for Baja 2017. “If budding engineers like us could contribute to the country, we will soon be seeing an India-made BMW or Mercedes,” declares a confident Sachin Kulkarni.

Published on November 26, 2015

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