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Day 3: Hitting the track

Saturday was a day of increasingly serious work for all 120 teams remaining at Shell Eco-marathon Americas. The track opened at 8 a.m. for a full day of officially recorded runs, with morning and afternoon sessions available to any car inspected and approved. The street looking UrbanConcept cars were out first, followed later by the streamlined Prototypes.

A day of learning

The teams can make multiple runs for their records, and many of today’s numbers will be surpassed with new attempts Sunday after tweaks to motors and other systems back in the pits.

The team from Sullivan High School in Indiana tried out its petrol (gasoline) prototype on track for the first time and it went “pretty well,” according to a student. “But was hot in the cockpit. We need more ventilation.”

Shell Ecomarathon Americas Prototype from Sullivan Highshool

The team from Sullivan High School hit the track with their Protoype vehicle in Houston

Schurr High School’s team from Montebello, California, was also making its first runs, and also has work ahead of it: “We’re making adjustments to be better,” one team member said. “We’re changing the gears on the transmission and the accelerator is too slow.”

The team from Rice University in Houston was making final adjustments to its UrbanConcept battery electric car, “Alpha Centuria”, before trying it out on the street track. Team Captain Adam McMullen says they’re trying to keep it as lightweight as possible: “Our frame, body and driver’s seat are all carbon fibre composite materials.”

It was a tough day for Cal Poly’s team from San Luis Obispo, California. “We had two runs so far today,” said team captain Sean Michel. “The battery died at lap 8 on the first run, the car flipped at lap 6 in the second run,” he says. “The driver, engine and car are ok, but we have battle scars.”

They’ll be working late into the night along with many others. At least they’ve gotten onto the track.

Red Prototype vehicle on track at Shell Ecomarathon Americas 2014

The inspection barrier

A little under half of the registered cars have yet to pass the detailed safety and technical inspection required before they can be driven on the Shell Eco-marathon Americas track. One team became discouraged and left the competition after repeated failed attempts.

Inspection team member Joe Redfield says they were sorry to see that, but acknowledges inspection has seemed more difficult this year. “We went out and looked at some of the teams to find out where they were and gave them some suggestions,” he said. “Our job is to get them through tech inspection and out onto the track.”