Students race low-emission cars in downtown Detroit – Detroit Free Press
A steady procession of strange, futuristic vehicles wove their way through downtown Detroit this afternoon.
The cars were built and driven by engineering students, who were all trying to finish a race through the city — in the most fuel-efficient way possible.
The event is the second year of the Shell Eco-marathon, where more than 1,000 students from 100 universities and high schools across North and South America were scheduled to compete and see whose vehicle could use the least amount of energy while also maintaining a minimum speed. Leading teams will compete in London this summer against teams from Asia and Europe.
“A lot of cars were still being built this morning,” said Mike Evans, a Shell fuel scientist and a technical team manager who was helping to run the competition today. “Time always disappears … you end up burning the midnight oil and everything like that.”
The students began arriving Tuesday, and the competition ran through the weekend. Starting outside Cobo Center, where the students eat, drink, sleep and work on their cars, the vehicles ran a 0.6-mile long course up Jefferson Avenue to Woodward Avenue and back.
The contest featured two types of cars: the urban concept cars, which roughly resemble production vehicles, and the prototypes, which look like metallic bobsleds and barely fit one driver while carrying tiny amounts of fuel.
The gasoline-powered prototype winner was Université Laval, near Montreal, Canada, with 2,584 miles per gallon. The winner in gasoline-powered urban concept car was Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Indiana, with 793 miles per gallon. There were other winners in alternative fuel categories.
The cars also had to complete 10 laps without breaking down — a formidable challenge, since about 10% of the urban concept cars and 30% of the prototypes suffer a breakdown while on the track, according to Evans.
Ethan Legge was one of the students staying up late in an effort to avoid a vehicle breakdown. The senior at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio says that on Saturday night he and other teammates had to build a new circuit for their battery electric vehicle, because their old one began melting.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge,” Legge said. But he added of the 5-person team: “We’re all mechanical engineers because we want to work on making something better. It’s been eight months of trying to figure it out.”
Students from the Newburgh Free Academy in Newburgh, New York, were also battling obstacles. Their aluminum-frame electric car blew a fuse shortly after the starting line on their first two runs, said the team’s leader, Cody Vinduzer. The team was hoping the third try would fare better.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs,” Vinduzer said.
The size of the teams ranged from a handful of people to a massive crew. Sixty-five people worked on a gas-powered urban concept car from the University of British Columbia. The university earned a second place award last year, said Nancy Chu, a 5th-year mechanical engineering student.
Today, the team was hoping to break their 2013 record for an urban concept car — 577 miles per gallon.
Part of the excitement was the challenge of how to address global warming and the environmental harm that cars can create, Chu added.
“Finding out what our activities have done to the world makes me extremely concerned and it’s important that we all become proactive about that,” Chu said. “And this is kind of my platform to do that.”
Contact Daniel Bethencourt: 313-223-4531 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @_dbethencourt. Free Press Staff Writer Mark Phelan contributed reporting.