London’s Olympic Park was buzzing with excitement as the first Make the Future London festival of innovation opened its doors to thousands of visitors and students gathering for Shell Eco-marathon Europe, the ultra-energy-efficient driving challenge.

More than 3,000 students from schools and universities in 34 countries are hoping to set records at the 31st edition of Shell Eco-marathon Europe, driving cars they’ve designed and built.

Brazilian football legend Pelé kicked off the Make the Future London festival, which expects 40,000 visitors between June 30 and July 3.

The competition features cars in two categories, each of which can use a range of energy sources from gasoline, diesel and battery power to hydrogen, ethanol and compressed natural gas (CNG). Cars in the Prototype category are low-slung and aerodynamic, with only enough room for a driver to lie down. The UrbanConcept category features cars that look more like road-going models.

Schoolchildren mingled with more than 200 teams of student mechanics making last-minute tweaks to their cars ahead of the tough technical inspection. Some children clambered over the Shell concept city car, unveiled in April, while others dreamt of driving in the Shell Eco-marathon themselves.    

“I’ll be back here next year to be the test driver, once my legs are long enough to reach the pedals,” says nine year old Finley as he emerges from one of the UrbanConcept cars. 

Drivers’ World Championship

The introduction of the Drivers’ World Championship this year is the most significant change to the Shell Eco-marathon since the European competition began 31 years ago. For the first time, the best UrbanConcept category teams, from three regional events across the globe, will be vying to be crowned the most energy-efficient driver in the grand finale on Sunday. 

French team Microjoule-La Joliverie, who dominated the Prototype gasoline category year-on-year, have set the pace again by becoming the first team to pass the gruelling technical test on Tuesday. Microjoule’s 2010 gasoline record, driving the equivalent of 3,771 kilometres on a single litre of fuel, still stands. The school team switched their attention to the CNG category in 2015. Their second team’s car is also the one to beat in the hydrogen fuel-cell category.

Before any of the teams can take to the track, they have to satisfy sharp-eyed technical inspectors that every part of their car is safe and conforms to the rules.

While more than 130 teams had passed by mid afternoon, others were still battling technical problems that scupper a few teams each year. As France’s Exergie team worked to get their car ready late Wednesday night, their hydraulic brakes burst on the test ramp. In a sign of the team spirit so often seen at the competition, Microjoule’s team helped come up with a solution. Sadly, Exergie are still trying to get the part they need.

“We won’t give up,” says Exergie’s Alex.

Will another team come to the rescue? 

Make the Future London is a four-day festival of ideas and innovation offering curious minds of all ages a glimpse into the global energy future, featuring live science shows and amazing inventions and cars of the future.

Meanwhile, in the Olympic Stadium, Shell Powering Progress Together forum brought together innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists and economists to debate ways to help the transition towards a lower-carbon society.

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For Europe participants

If you’re a participant or want to join Shell Eco-marathon Europe, see all you need to know about the competition.