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BAJA CONNECTION: Andre Susanto is part of Portland State University's successful Mini Baja racing team. Susanto is with the go-cart his team used at Mini Baja races this year. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
BAJA CONNECTION: Andre Susanto is part of Portland State University's successful Mini Baja racing team. Susanto is with the go-cart his team used at Mini Baja races this year. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Never underestimate the power of a lawn mower.

A lawn mower-type engine can do everything from simulate flight to give someone more jitters than three cups of espresso.

Just ask Andre Susanto, a Portland State University student who grew up in La Grande.

Susanto is a go-cart racer and a member of a PSU team that competes in the collegiate Society of Automotive Engineers Mini Baja circuit.

In April his team placed 32nd among 120 teams at a Mini Baja race in Wisconsin.

The go-carts used in the races are powered by engines similar to those of lawn mowers. The 10-horsepower engines can push a go cart up to 35 mph.

At each Mini Baja race teams run their vehicle for four consecutive hours. The team that has covered the most miles after four hours wins. Most teams have several people drive during a race. Drivers trade off because riding a go-cart is a jarring experience — the engine is behind the seat.

"You are jittery after you are done. Your body is vibrating. It's not because of an adrenaline rush,'' Susanto said.

On some courses racers have to make jumps of about 5 feet in length on each lap. In practice Susanto has made jumps of 20 to 25 feet in length and 5 to 6 feet high.

"You actually feel like you're flying. It is just different, you don't fly when you are in a car,'' he said.

Susanto was anxious the first time he made a jump.

"I expected a big jar but instead it was like landing on a cloud,'' the PSU student said.

Susanto's go-cart lands easily because of its good suspension system.

All of the go-carts entered in Mini Baja races are made by teams of college students. Susanto said the process has allowed him to learn a tremendous amount about auto mechanics.

"When I started I didn't even know anything about cars. Now I do all of my own work on my car,'' said Susanto, who has been racing go-carts for three years.

Susanto, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, graduated from La Grande High School in 1993. He credits the help he received from his La Grande High School teachers with playing a key role in the success he has had as a member of the PSU racing team and as a student.

Susanto's team makes a new go-cart every year. Rules don't require teams to do this, but Susanto likes the fact that his squad annually makes a new vehicle. This in spite of the fact that keeping the same go cart each year might help a team enjoy greater success.

"It is nice to learn. Learning is more important than winning,'' Susanto said.

Anyone who would like to help sponsor Susanto's team should call him at 503-318-2547.

Mini Baja races are conducted on dirt and rock tracks that range from less than a mile to 2 miles. Susanto will never forget a race that was conducted in a rock quarry. The slippery track was made worse by rain.

"It was like ice,'' Susanto said. "There were quite a few rollovers.''

At most races there is at least one rollover accident but drivers usually escape with nothing more than bruises and "shaken nerves.''

"In three years I've never seen anyone taken away in an ambulance,'' Susanto said.

The key to racing well is knowing your vehicle. This allows one to respond quickly when a mechanical problem arises.

"You get it built early and then you test, test and test,'' Susanto said.

Susanto was never involved in any type of automotive racing before coming to Portland State University. He now is now an avid fan of his sport.

"It is a great way to enjoy yourself outdoors,'' he said.

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