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Day 1

At 6am a pink sky over Luneta Park signals a glorious day ahead. The newly-built site is buzzing with uniformed staff on walkie-talkies. Inside a giant marquee students are unpacking their self-built, futuristic cars from giant wooden crates in individual booths. Their first challenge is to take their vehicle through technical inspection, before it is allowed onto the track.

“Safety comes first,” says Adrien Jeurgens, Shell Technical Manager. “Every car has to be fully tested.”

The car is chipped and passes through a series of stations. These include a ramp to test the brakes, a frame to check vehicle dimensions and giant scales. Prototype cars must not exceed 140 kg while UrbanConcept vehicles, which more closely resemble road cars, have a 205 kg weight limit.

Tongji University team driver squeezes through technical inspection

Tongji University team driver squeezes through technical inspection

A full examination

“We have never weighed our car,” says Marc Amador from Team Adamson in the Philippines. “I think it may be closer to 230 kg, so we’d need to take out some non-essential parts!”

The inspection also checks the driver can see 180 degrees, vital when out on the track, and can evacuate within 10 seconds in case of an emergency. At each station a trained staff member uses an electronic pad to scan the car’s chip and record a pass or fail. Teams must work to resolve any problems before returning to try again.

As cars slowly start to queue Team Zeal Eco-Power from Tongji University is at the front. Their slick blue-and-grey car with its fish-like nose waits behind the barrier. 

“I’m not sure we’re confident of passing,” says team member Gao Wenjie. “We may need some luck!”

Students tune their car during day 1

Students tune their car during day 1

Embarking on an epic journey

While some fortunate students only had to travel across Manila, others have come from much further afield. After flying around 17 hours over nearly 8,800 km, Lebanese team Go-AUB from the American University of Beirut is pleased to be here – but anxious about their car.

“We had to ship our car nearly a month before other teams” says technician Georgio Haddad. “So we had less time to trouble-shoot and refine problems.”

The team of six is new and inherited the vehicle from their predecessors, with little time for improvements.

Just before the car left, Go-AUB found a leak in the carburetor that blends the flow of air and petrol into the engine. They had to send the car without it and are now frantically working to install a new one.

“For today, we are doing just enough to pass the technical inspection.” says Georgio. “We will think about efficiency and the winning strategy later!”

More in Manila

While the students focus on the driving challenge, hundreds of thought leaders from business, government and academia have come together to discuss broader challenges. The Powering Progress Together Forum taking place today is designed to spark new thinking around how the world can become more resilient as pressure on vital resources of energy, water and food intensifies.

Today also sees the first visitors arriving at the Shell Energy Lab, an interactive exhibition focused on the future of energy. Emilio Dearos, aged 10, was among the first to run inside a human hamster ball. He generated 1,437 kiljoules, enough to power a refrigerator for 87 minutes.

"We should have this at home!" he says.