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DAY 1: Technical inspection opens

More than 100 teams from universities, schools and colleges all over Europe have been gathering in a lively camping ground in the Dutch city Rotterdam. This week they will compete to set new records in fuel efficiency at Shell Eco-marathon Europe in the Ahoy arena.

By far the youngest of the competitors is Team Landermere of Tendring Technology College, England. Aged between 13 and 14 this group of four boys and two girls is on average a decade younger than most other competitors.

Some of these talented young teenagers have already set their sights on a career in engineering. They are competing in the ultra-fuel efficient Prototype category with a petrol-driven vehicle called the Tendring Torpedo.

Students from team Landermere of Tendring Technology College

“It’s quite scary,” says 14-year-old Rebekah Murray when asked how it feels to be competing against students much older than her. “Many other students have qualifications, knowledge, life experience and real-life driving skills: we’re just a bunch of young school kids!”

Despite their young years, Rebekah and her teammates are determined to succeed.

“The pressure is building,” says 14-year-old team leader Tom Philpot. “We have been working on the car for several hours a day after school, during our lunch-hour and at weekends.”

Still going strong

The car dates back to 1996 when Tendring College entered Shell Eco-marathon for the first time and achieved a distance equivalent to 1,233 km on one litre of petrol.

Teacher Simon Clapson founded Team Landermere in his first year at the school and is still in charge to this day. He realised that by designing and building their own car his pupils would learn practical engineering skills that could not be taught within the classroom.

“The last time we competed was in 2001. We’ve had to rebuild the car more or less from scratch,” he says, and reels off a long list of chassis parts and engine components that the team has had to redesign and remake.

The main reason for the rebuild is the driver. The old car was designed for a 12-year-old, whereas the present car has to be driven by someone over the age of 16 with a driving licence, in this case a teacher who is 30 cm taller than her teenage predecessor.

“The team is ambitious, motivated and really keen to do well,” says Simon. He and his students have agreed on three targets. The first is to enjoy themselves, the second is to complete each stage of the competition, and the third is to try to beat the team record of ’96.

Taking part in Shell Eco-marathon is an important step on the path to becoming engineers for this team of talented young teenagers.

Team GAMF from Hungary was the first one through Tech Inspection

Last year’s Prototype runners-up Hungarian team GAMF was first through technical inspection today

Team facts

Team name: Team Landermere

Average age: 13-14

Car name: Tendring Torpedo

Category: Prototype

Energy type: Petrol

Main features: Low-budget car built from used materials and second-hand components, such as aluminium from a scrap bin and composite cut-offs from a local firm.

Years in competition: 4

Record: 1,233 km/l in 1996

Claus Breuer, 49, founded the team in 2009. “For me personally, Shell Eco-marathon is all about learning. It’s an excellent means to teach students how to solve engineering tasks, both as a team and as individuals.” Dr Breuer’s interest in speed and engines extends into his spare time: he is a keen motorcyclist and aircraft pilot.

Thomas Pyttel, 49, is joint leader of the team with Claus Breuer. His most challenging project to date was building the new carbon fibre monococque chassis (monococque is a combined chassis and body frame in a single piece). “It took a huge amount of work to prepare the mould. But the reward is seeing the excitement and motivation in the students as they progress and succeed.”

Norbert Stieh, 27, is a third-year student of engineering and in his third year in the team. Norbert is responsible for building a new powertrain. One of the most valuable skills he’s learned is project and time management. “It’s important to set and keep deadlines. If we don’t, the car would never be finished.”

Andreas Dieter, 27, is a sixth-year student of engineering. Like Norbert, he has been a member of the team for three years. As one of the more experienced team members, Andreas is responsible for coaching and helping younger members of the team. He is also the team’s reserve driver, and boldly predicts a 500 km/l improvement on last year’s performance.