Tried off-roading? Now, learn about BAJA SAE, a competitive automobile sport in Chennai

What is it like to sit in a buggy and compete in BAJA? A sport for students, that binds the worlds of scholarship, man and machine

Published - May 24, 2023 05:00 pm IST

A single seat four wheeled bugyy

A single seat four wheeled bugyy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It is that time of the year when engineering students dissolve the four walls of the classroom and enter a space where feet do not dare fall. Only a specially designed off-roading vehicle is able to tread this space. This is the world of the BAJA SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), a competitive sport which bridges the gap between academia and the automobile industry.  

The sport originated in 1926 and gets its name from its place of origin — Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula . One of the teams representing Chennai this year was from Sri Venkateshwara College of Engineering (SVCE). The 26-member team represented the city at Himachal Pradesh’s Chitkara University and returned with a second runners-up trophy in the innovation category. Their novelty? The team built a two portal axle (Portal gear lifts) buggy or vehicle which increases ground clearance and aids in off-roading abilities.


SVCE college’s BAJA SAE team that represented Chennai in April 2023 at Chitkara University.

SVCE college’s BAJA SAE team that represented Chennai in April 2023 at Chitkara University. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The BAJA SAE is an intercollegiate automobile design and racing competition for graduate and undergraduate engineering students. Only colleges affiliated to the SAE organisation or with committees under the same can enroll for the event. The game is a marriage of off-roading and automobile off-roading. While off-roading is done with SUVs, the buggy in BAJA is built from scratch.  The idea behind the event is to test the vehicle’s limits of endurance and allow students to put their academic knowledge to a rigorous real-world test.  

While off-roading is done with SUVs, in BAJA, the buggy in BAJA is built from scratch in accordance to pre-defined rules and regulations required by the sport. 

While off-roading is done with SUVs, in BAJA, the buggy in BAJA is built from scratch in accordance to pre-defined rules and regulations required by the sport.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Prior to the competition, a team of 26 students put their heads together to build a single seat off-road prototype vehicle — the procurement of materials, design, testing and enhancement of the vehicle’s faculties take eight months.  

The competition is held every year in April at different locations across the country.

The 26-member team from Chennai comprised only one female participant — Anushri Muthukumar — an electrical and electronics engineering student. Anushri explains that the competition is divided into three stages. The first is the technical inspection where the vehicle is checked for errors. The next round is the brake and acceleration test followed by the endurance race where the vehicle has to complete 10 laps in a stipulated time.

Anushri stands alongside her buggy.

Anushri stands alongside her buggy. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ravikrishnan Saravanan, captain of the team says that students wait to participate in the event with bated breath throughout the year. ”During the eight months that lead to the making of the vehicle professors are not allowed to help us in any way, we are completely on our own,” he adds. 

Kamalesh Dhanasekar, former captain of the 2022 Baja team from SVCE college says that in the culminating round of the sport, it comes down to racing. The buggy not only has to beat the limitations of unrelenting terrains, and the rigorous batter of exhaustion, but also complete 10 continuous laps on either mushy, mucky or even rocky terrains.

First prize goes to the team able to complete 10 laps in the shortest amount of time. Kamalesh also adds, “Although cash prizes and medals are given out to winners, what matters most to us is being noticed by big brands at events like this — which later helps in our career.”

Through the competition, camaraderie, team work, learning and unlearning come to live impersonally on the minds of these budding engineers. In between installing proper working lights on the vehicle, correcting wires and arranging documentation, a large chunk of student life promises an indelible presence in abiding memories.


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