This year, organizers say, the cars are much more sophisticated – with better radar, sensors, lasers and cameras to guide the way via onboard computer brains. Bill Kehaly, team leader of Axion Racing, said his stereo-vision cameras and military navigation system give his ’94 Cherokee the edge against high-dollar teams from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities. The Axion team, comprised mostly of San Diego engineers, is backed by two racy blondes from “The Man Show.” “SciAutonics’ looks like ‘Star Wars;’ ours looks like mom’s and dad’s Jeep,” said Kehaly, owner of a South Pacific island water company whose car comes equipped with two blue surfboards. “You flip a couple switches, put in a PIN, a GPS manager — it drives itself. Say a little prayer and push ‘Go.”‘ The SciAutonics team, comprised of retired gearheads and volunteers from Rockwell Scientific and Amgen, joined forces with Auburn (Ala.) University. Its itty-bitty ATV quad aims to trounce such leading SUV diesels as the Hummer of CMU and the VW Toureg of Stanford. “It’s rock solid,” said Porter. “Both of those teams can go right off the trail – and Rascal may race across the finish line. We’re very optimistic.” — Dana Bartholomew can be reached at (818) 713-3730, or by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Twenty-three cars – including a Jeep Cherokee entered by Axion Racing of Westlake Village – will set off at 6:30 a.m. from Primm, Nev., on a 150-mile course through tumbleweeds and jackrabbits. The first vehicle to complete the Grand Challenge in less than 10 hours wins. The prize is $2 million, double last year’s reward. “It’s a winner-take-all,” said Tom Goodwin, spokesman for the Grand Challenge hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s research arm. DARPA put up the prize and spent $9 million on this year’s race. “Axion was very strong. SciAutonics was very strong. All 23 teams can do it. … We don’t have any doubt.” Last year, seven teams, including both Conejo Valley entries, qualified for the race, but each fizzled soon after the starting gate. When Rascal the robot zigzagged around a hilly obstacle course thisweek in pursuit of a $2 million government prize, onlookers snickered at its rough-hewn looks. But the skepticism died as the quirky all-terrain vehicle, built by SciAutonics of Thousand Oaks, whizzed past and qualified for today’s DARPA Grand Challenge race of robots across the rugged Mojave Desert. “We’re pretty much the naked car – everything shows,” said John Porter, head of the SciAutonics volunteer team that qualified this week at California Speedway. “We’re the little car that can.” For the second year, Rascal will join some of the world’s most sophisticated robots in a driverless race launched by the Pentagon to spur a new generation of unmanned military vehicles.