From the introduction of the V8 engine to muscle car wars of the 1960s, competition has fueled the automotive industry. And it’s competition that’s helping fuel the next generation of industry leaders, engineers, car builders and DIY enthusiasts colleges and universities around the world.

In an effort to prepare the next generation of automotive professionals to compete, innovate, and ultimately lead, colleges and universities offer their mechanical engineering students the opportunity to battle other schools in special engineering competitions: Formula SAE and Baja SAE.

Formula SAE

Founded in 1979, Formula SAE is a student design competition in which students design, develop, and race a small Formula-style race car. Using a four-stroke, piston-powered engine no larger than 610cc, teams of students from over 400 different schools compete against one another in competitions around the world.

During the competitions, the teams must participate in a series of static and dynamic events, including engineering design, cost analysis, and business presentation. To excel in these three static categories, they must explain and defend their design process and pitch their vehicle to a manufacturer that targets amateur weekend autocross drivers.

The dynamic portion of the competition includes vehicle performance tests for fuel efficiency and acceleration. Team also put their Formula-style vehicle to the test on an autocross course, skid-pad, and endurance competition. Teams can also earn points for special design innovations.

Baja SAE


Like the Formula SAE competition, Baja SAE pits teams of automotive engineering students against each other in a series of competitions.  However, Baja SAE is focused on driveline, suspension, and chassis design.

Each vehicle is built around the concept of a four-wheel, single seat off-road recreational vehicle intended for the weekend off-road enthusiast.  Each team must use a stock ten-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine as their starting point and must make the vehicle as safe, comfortable, and off-road friendly as possible.

During the actual Baja SAE competitions, the teams and vehicles are judged on suspension design, cost effectiveness, and business presentation. The dynamic competition includes acceleration, land maneuverability, water maneuverability, log pull, and endurance.

Companies like Summit Racing have stepped up to support Formula SAE and Baja SAE programs. Summit recently hosted local teams from Northeast Ohio, and we caught up with Cleveland area Formula SAE/Baja SAE advisor Eric Franz to learn more about the programs. He joined us for this episode of the OnAllCylinders podcast:

University of Akron 2022 Formula SAE car competing in Michigan
The University of Akron Formula SAE team, Zips Racing, compete in Michigan in 2023. Image: Zips Racing
The University of Akron Formula SAE group picture
The University of Akron Formula SAE at Michigan International Speedway in May 2023. Image: Zips Racing
Formula SAE and Baja SAE vehicles on display at Summit Racing retail store
Formula SAE and Baja SAE rigs (front) on display at the Summit Racing retail store in Tallmadge, Ohio. Image: David Fuller
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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.