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Day 2: Waving the Green Flag

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Shell External Vice President Niel Golightly waved the green flags that traditionally signal the start of any auto race and, amid cheers from the student competitors declared the track open and the eighth annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas officially underway.

Speaking from a stage in the centre of a the city park that forms the track infield, the two had just applauded the more than 120 teams from 84 institutions gathered to this year’s competition -- the last in Houston before it moves to Detroit next year. 

Mayor Parker called that aspect “bittersweet”, but added she was happy Shell Eco-marathon Americas had called Houston home for the past five years.

Shell Ecomarathon Americas student

Niel praised the technical ability and intelligence evident in all the teams: “Anyone concerned about the next generation’s ability to solve society’s problems, whatever they might be, need not worry.”

Back inside the car preparation hall of the adjacent George Brown Convention Centre, many students resumed readying their cars for the rigorous safety and technical inspection that must be cleared before they can move onto the track. Those who have passed, immediately began rolling their cars out for test and practice runs through the afternoon.

One of those teams eager to get onto the street is The ShopGirls from Granite Falls High School in Washington State.

Making their fifth consecutive appearance at Shell Eco-marathon Americas, they came this year with an entirely new car – a Prototype category diesel. They hope this sleeker model will let them double last year’s 520 miles per gallon (218 kilometres per litre) mark.

Shell Ecomarathon Americas team photo

The team from Colorado University in Boulder passed inspection and took to the track in a streamlined ethanol Prototype car that, because of its paint scheme, looks like a killer whale. It doesn’t weigh like one though, tipping the scales at just 51 kilograms (113 pounds). The team goal is 1,500 miles per gallon (631 kilometres per litre).  Team driver Cameron Misegad explained they’ll run the engine as little as possible. “To do that we use a boost and coast strategy with an average speed of 15 mph (24 kph)” he said.

But, many teams didn’t make it to practice Friday, still struggling to get their cars through inspection.  Shell Eco-marathon Americas Technical Director Adrian Juergens says the biggest stumbling blocks are engine kill switches (needed in case of emergency) and brakes. A lot of cars are still out. “Last count, there are 44 cars that still have not come in to register with us, that’s a lot,” he said. “It’s going to be quite a bit of work for us on Saturday and Sunday.”

Teams start lining up to make their official mileage runs on the Shell Eco-marathon Americas track at 7:30 Saturday morning.