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Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2015

“You can't learn in school what the world is going to do next year,” said Henry Ford, founder of the Ford motor company and pioneer of the modern car industry.

But for students taking part in the unique energy-efficient car competition, Shell Eco-marathon, school and university are where they might influence car design for decades to come. The competition has now gained new significance with a move to Ford’s birthplace, Detroit.

“This perfectly upholds the city’s legacy,” says Jacob Byrd, team manager for the University of Detroit Jesuit High, an inner-city all-boys school.

Cars in the blood

For decades Detroit flourished as the centre of the US car industry. But then it fell into sharp decline. As part of the city’s regeneration it’s preparing to host thousands of innovative young engineers in 2015; all determined to drive the furthest on the least energy.

For the time being, Jacob and his team are focused on the 2014 event, which runs in Houston, Texas, from 24-27 April. Time is tight and the boys have been putting in long hours to build their two streamlined cars alongside their studies. In addition to upgrading a petrol-fuelled Prototype car entered in past competitions, they have built a new electric vehicle.

“It’s a great project,” says teacher and team supervisor Michael Bindon. “Students learn so much from the design right through to the final drive.”

With many people in Detroit still employed in the car industry, the team has also benefited from the professional knowledge and hands-on support from enthusiastic family members. “Here in the Motor City autos are in our blood,” says Michael.

University of Michigan Supermileage team

The University of Michigan Supermileage team is determined to go further than 275 miles on one gallon of fuel

Higher education

Working on the Shell Eco-marathon project helps improve students’ career prospects: Jacob, for example, has just won a place at the University of Michigan School of Engineering – no small achievement.

“A huge part of my application was presenting what I had learned from Shell Eco-marathon,” says Jacob. “My test scores were not exceptional – the competition is.”

Once at university, Jacob will have the option of carrying on with Shell Eco-marathon: the University of Michigan also has a team. This year the university students have built a new system for their Prototype car that better supports the weight of the chassis and delivers smoother driving. John Rockwell, race strategy lead, has also been making use of computer software to calculate how to design and drive the car for maximum efficiency.

Great expectations

The Michigan team manager Melissa Learman is equally excited about the upcoming move: “Detroit is a city that’s bouncing back,” she says. “The competition could help with its revival.”

For the time being both teams are still grappling with the challenges Houston poses – including a much higher temperature in Texas than their native Michigan over 2,000 km (1,300 miles) to the north. Watch this space to see how they perform!

University of Detroit Jesuit High School

Team name: Ignatian Ignition

Average age: 15-18

Years in competition:

Car 1

  • Car name: Motor City Cub I
  • Category: Prototype
  • Energy type: Petrol (Gasoline)
  • Main features: Lightweight body made from aluminum on last year’s frame. New steering design and reshaped body for improved aerodynamics. Added electric start, new 50cc engine up from 35cc.
  • Record to beat: 258 mpg

Car 2

  • Car name: Motor City Cub II
  • Category: Prototype
  • Energy type: Battery electric
  • Main features: 3-wheel vehicle, aluminum frame and body, 48V lithium iron phosphate battery with onboard charging, hydraulic front brakes.
  • Record to beat: First year entered

Jonathan Lizardo, aged 18, is the team manager. As well as studying and working on the car, he has found time to start up his own successful business delivering groceries to the elderly. He says the biggest challenge preparing for Shell Eco-marathon is coming together as a team and managing different opinions!

Chief engineer, 18-year old Jacob Byrd, has focused on improving the car’s engine and power train. When not in school, he spends his summer working as a lifeguard and taking part in activities with his large family. Jake believes that the competition brings wider benefits: “It really helps to get the brain juices flowing around the whole concept of energy efficiency.”

Both Jonathan and Jacob will be attending the University of Michigan School of Engineering in autumn 2014.

Michael Bindon, a Physics teacher, is the team supervisor. He describes the competition as “a fantastic opportunity to see how things are actually made – even college students never see real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom”. Mr. Bindon is helping the team work long hours and weekends to meet its deadline.

University of Michigan

Team name: University of Michigan Supermileage

Average age: 19-22

Years in competition: 2

  • Car name: Cypress
  • Category: Prototype
  • Energy type: Petrol (gasoline)
  • Main features: Car body made from carbon fibre. Computer-modelling used to calculate the car’s aerodynamics. Engine modified and calibrated with an electronic fuel injection system for optimal efficiency.
  • Record to beat: 275 mpg

Project manager Melissa Learman wants to work in the automotive industry when she leaves university. Her role on the team has brought her into contact with major companies in Detroit who have sponsored the team. “Growing up, half my classmates had parents in the automotive industry – everyone is very excited about this event.”

Karan Jain is 21 and the team’s chief engineer. In his spare time Karan likes to keep active, hiking and biking. He says: “The event provides exposure to push new technologies – people see these mileages are possible and wonder why they can’t achieve them in their own cars.”

John Rockwell, race strategy lead, is 22 years old and studying mechanical engineering. He enjoys playing volleyball and soccer, and travels to play in tournaments. John is enthusiastic about the competition moving to Detroit: “It makes sense to bring it to its natural birthplace, and it could help the city’s revival.”

Andy Dun, 22, is the engine lead. He has already had internships within the automotive industry, but finds that Shell Eco-marathon is providing him with invaluable experience in implementing engine control. In the future he wants to apply his skills to a job, in Michigan and beyond.