Between 450 and 500 college students from the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico will converge on Morgantown May 9-11 when West Virginia University hosts an all-terrain vehicle competition.

About 50 schools will participate in the Mini Baja East at Chaplin Hill Anker Fields, said Ken Means, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and faculty adviser for WVU s team. This is the fourth time WVU has been the host for the competition, which is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The event was last held at WVU in 1995.

“WVU is proud to be the host school for the competition,”Dr. Means said.”In the past, both SAE and the competing schools have enjoyed the way WVU runs the competition. It also gives us a chance to show off West Virginia. Early May is a very nice time to visit the area, and the site for this years competition is a beautiful setting.”

Mini Bajas are intercollegiate competitions involving prototypes of four-wheel, off-road recreational vehicles. Student teams design, build and race the vehicles, which run on 8-horsepower engines provided by Briggs&Stratton. Participants compete in events ranging from land and water maneuverability to a four-hour endurance race.

SAE has been sponsoring the competition since 1976 and stages three contests each year in the East, West and Midwest. WVU has been participating in the Mini Bajas since the early 1980s, winning four times and usually finishing in the top 10.

This years event begins at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 9, when judges evaluate vehicles for safety and design. Actual competition gets under way at 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 10, with events in acceleration, top speed and braking; hill climb; land maneuverability; water tilt and maneuverability; and suspension and traction. Competition concludes Saturday, May 11, with the endurance race, which WVU Mountaineer Trey Hindrichs will start with a blast from his musket. Judges will announce winners at an awards banquet at 6:30 that evening.

For the first time, the competition will include a live Web broadcast courtesy of West Side Telecommunications.

Eleven students designed and built WVU s vehicle as part of a senior project in mechanical and aerospace engineering, Means said.

Members of WVU s team are Ben Asbury, Larry Rowe and Zenovy Wowczuk, all of Morgantown; Jesse Ashby of Oakland, Md.; Brian Downie and Matt McBee, both of Wheeling; Craig Golden of Beckley; Steve Glaeser of Rochester Hills, Mich.; Daniel Hardin of Star City; Tanner Johnson of West Hamlin; and Mike Leek of Pine Grove.

Students gain practical experience from the competition, but they also have fun, Means said.

“It is more than just a required course in the mechanical engineering curriculum,”he said.”For some students, it becomes a passion that they devote great amounts of time and effort to accomplish. Baja alumni often return to the competitions and provide support in various forms to the schools they attended.”

The competition can also open doors for participants, who get to show off their work for corporate sponsors, Means said.

“Companies are usually eager to hire students who have had this team design experience,”he said.”The Baja projects require that the student teams design, build and have the vehicle ready for the competition by the deadline and under a cost limitation. This is just what industry does to produce its products.”

This years corporate sponsors include General Motors Truck Division, Polaris, Honda, Mechanical Dynamics Corp., Wings Ole and West Side Telecommunications.

Visit the WVU Mini Baja teams Web site at a detailed schedule of events and other information.