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Excitement runs high in Houston
Thursday has seen energy, activity and enthusiasm building throughout the Shell Eco-marathon Americas complex in downtown Houston. At the heart is the huge convention centre hall filling with students, cars and high hopes for the weekend’s fuel efficiency competition.
Day 1: Cars through technical inspection
Trucks and trailers queued around the George Brown Convention Center before dawn, waiting to unload more than 1,000 students’ cars and dreams into some 8 acres of waiting space. The cavernous room is subdivided with low curtains into 126 individual “garage” areas, each with room for a car, spare parts, tools and the team members.
Unloading marked an end to days of anxiety for the SuperMileage team from Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. Team captain Sean Michel says it was the first time they’d shipped the car: “We were imagining a worst-case scenario,” he says, “We didn’t know if the car would arrive in one piece.” Luckily Lamina III arrived safely. The team started working feverishly, preparing for technical inspection – a rigourous set of tests to ensure the car is safe and fit to compete.
After sleeping at the airport, a bleary-eyed team from Goshen High School in Indiana came early to unload. Their two cars ran perfectly at a fun run test before shipping. Once inside, the students shook off any sleepiness and dived into making sure the cars were still in good condition. Two more high school teams, from Durand, Wisconsin, drove 24 hours, pulling their cars in trailers. Despite little sleep, they immediately started preparing to compete this weekend.
It’s much the same story for 121 other teams here at Shell Eco-marathon Americas: they are all pulling everything together for a chance at energy efficiency glory on the one-kilometre track of city streets, just a few metres beyond the centre’s front doors.
Before any reach that track, they must pass a hard gate – a detailed technical and safety inspection. For more than an hour, a team of experts go over each car with a fine-tooth comb, measuring and testing things like height, width, track, tyre size, vehicle and driver weight and more, certifying that each meets official rules and specifications.
Shell Eco-marathon Americas Technical Director Adrian Juergens says safety is always primary: “All cars must pass safety inspection, or they’re not allowed on the track.”
Teams will trouble-shoot a multitude of issues, but usually it’s the brakes that cause problems: “It’s hard to get those brakes to hold the vehicles on our test ramp,” Juergens says. The cars are placed on 20% slope, the driver applies the brakes and the car must stay in place to be certified track ready.
Many teams make several visits to the inspectors before track clearance. But it’s not always a happy ending. Juergens says a handful of teams each year fail inspection. “It’s very disappointing to them, it’s rough.”
Teams will continue preparations and inspections through Friday, while some move onto the track for practice sessions. All looking to the weekend’s official mileage runs for the $2,000 grand prizes awaiting the teams that go furthest on the least energy.