Tech inspection day

There are always bumps in the road. This is the event’s first year in Detroit and, for some first time teams, learning about the inevitable ups and downs.

One group was searching for a vehicle lost in shipping, another is dealing with sick team members, and broken parts are always a threat. Part of the experience is solving problems on the fly.

Transportation trouble

Students from the University of Texas at El Paso know it well. After nearly a year of hard work designing, engineering and building their car, it arrived with a potentially race-ending crack in the body. They’re staying optimistic. “We’re working on it and I think we’ll still be okay,” said Chris Mata, graduate student and seasoned Shell Eco-marathon Americas competitor. The 19 member team should have enough hands to fix the problem and still get ready for inspection.

The University of British Columbia team went the extra mile with packing and logistics to be sure their car made it to Detroit safely after a previous racer was destroyed during transport home from last year’s Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Houston. They’re hopeful the new model will eventually pass technical inspection with no serious problems.

Technical inspection

The major hurdle facing every team before it can ever drive the track on Detroit’s downtown streets is a detailed technical and safety inspection. A team of professional technical experts scrutinizes each car, measuring and testing for height, width, track, tire size, vehicle and driver weight and much more. A car must be certified meeting all official rules and specifications.

It usually takes several tries for most teams to pass. The sticking points? “Usually seat belts and brakes are the recurring issues,” says Shell Eco-marathon Americas Test Director Adrian Juergens. “Those brakes can have a hard time holding the vehicles on our test ramp,” he says. The brakes must hold the car with driver steady on a inclined ramp to be certified track ready.

The first team to come through technical inspection, was unsurprisingly, defending two-time winner, Université Laval of Quebec, Canada. An engine main kill switch and problem with the turning radius failed their car the first time. Some tweaking netted them a pass on the second try. 

For other teams, it’s a balancing act of building the most fuel efficient car while meeting Shell’s strict safety guidelines. At the Time-to-Exit inspection station, Morgan Meyer, back-up driver for Ruston High School’s Prototype Gasoline vehicle, struggled to exit the car in the required ten seconds. Asked about the team’s biggest worry he echoed Juergens’ assessment. “We’re a little concerned about the brakes holding the weight of the car and the driver.”

Teams will continue preparations and inspections through Friday, while some move onto the track for practice sessions. All are looking to the weekend’s official mileage runs.

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