Rotterdam 2015

Around 3,000 students from 26 countries – making up 193 teams - have gathered in a blustery spring week at the Ahoy Centre in Rotterdam, hoping to set new fuel-efficiency driving records.

The milestone 30th anniversary event will also be Rotterdam’s fourth and last (look out for news on its 2016 location before the week is over). On Thursday, its doors open to the public. Around 40,000 visitors are expected in the course of four days.

<h3>Exciting new world</h3>

The 2015 European competition is guaranteed to see a new Prototype gasoline winner, a category dominated year-on-year by all-time greats team Microjoule-La Joliverie from France. Last year, the school team cruised to victory, driving the equivalent of 3314.9km on a single litre of fuel.

This year, Microjoule have left the field wide open after switching to the new Prototype CNG (compressed natural gas) category.

Rite of passage

Nobody can doubt the eagerness of the students: when a long queue formed, the technical inspection area opened three hours ahead of schedule on Tuesday.

At 10 testing stations, inspectors scrutinise every aspect of cars’ design and construction for safety and conformity with the rules. In all, 120 separate tests must be passed before cars are given the all-clear to go out on track.

Teams are failing on smaller details this year, explained technical team member Gilles Vanier, such as having loose batteries or no fire extinguisher on board. A few also failed to seal off the driver compartment from the engine compartment. “Most of these things can be fixed within a day,” says Gilles. 

First on track

First through technical inspection and out on track was Schluckspecht 3 from Offenburg in Germany, competitors since 1998, with a Prototype battery electric car. Driver Isabelle Mau said, “We had a problem with electrics in previous years and couldn’t do the test runs. This year we were first through technical inspection and first on track. We’re super-proud.” The team’s UrbanConcept car also passed technical inspection first time.

First onto the track in the UrbanConcept category were WiISEN Toulon / SCS from France, with their battery electric car.

By the end of the day, the technical team had inspected 181 cars, of which 71 had passed.

Heart and soul

Ireland’s first ever team at a Shell Eco-marathon, from National University of Ireland Galway, considered 20 different concepts before landing on their Prototype battery electric car - the Geec. “We didn’t expect the standard to be so high,” said driver Maryrose McLoone. The team then went on to pass an impressive eight out of ten tests first time, and the remaining two by the end of the day.

In a display of team generosity so often seen at the Shell Eco-marathon, team Aston University from the UK donated a spare seatbelt to Smart Power Urban from Poland, who discovered theirs was missing.

Thoughtful design

Team TU/Ecomotive have taken an even more modular approach to their UrbanConcept battery electric car. Designed as road-going vehicle, its batteries can be exchanged in minutes when empty. The biodegradable body panels can also be replaced with new ones in different colours and shapes, clicking into place.

Student Rob Kloosterman explained the team had been removing modules – including the radio – to bring the car’s weight just below the 225kg UrbanConcept limit.  

New rules

Rule changes this year mean all cars must have a front-wheel drive design. For many teams, this meant redesigning their cars to place the front wheels on the outside of the body so that they can turn.

Other changes include a mandatory “dead man’s switch” – a safety device which the driver has to press at all times to keep the car working. With switches often mounted on the steering wheel, some drivers are finding it difficult to turn the wheel and press at the same time.

Teams also had to build their own motor control systems from scratch. Team Ruppin-Jet from Germany, with their Prototype battery electric car, impressed inspectors by mounting theirs onto a round frame which can be slotted straight into the car.

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