Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2015

Shell Eco-marathon Americas started in 2007 with 17 teams competing on a 2 mile race track in Southern California. Six years ago, the event moved to downtown Houston where it grew beyond anyone’s expectations. This year, 2015, saw that success continue in a new place: the historic home of the U.S. auto industry. In all, 113 teams and more than 1,000 students from five countries across the Americas—Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and United States – registered and travelled, sometimes thousands of miles, with their cars and tools to set up shop in the massive Cobo Center on Detroit’s scenic riverfront.

Continuing excellence

The students may change, but excellent programmes have a way of continuing their success, while spurring others to greater accomplishment. That first year in Houston, 2010, the two teams that led in the Prototype and UrbanConcept categories -- The University of Laval (Quebec, Canada) and Mater Dei High School (Indiana, USA) -- were right there in the thick of the battle for top honours again Sunday in Detroit.

The only change this time was that another team, inspired by their exploits, finally broke through, in dramatic fashion, to take its place in the spotlight: Laval’s friendly Canadian rivals, The University of Toronto.

The entire event was one of the most trouble free yet for Laval. By mid-day Sunday they had posted an astounding 3,365 miles per gallon (1,431 kilometres per litre) mark on the challenging downtown track and seemed secure to take their sixth victory out of the last seven Shell Eco-marathon Americas. Toronto, on the other hand had battled problems all day, including four failed runs and a crash. With their car towed back into the paddock and time running out, Toronto scrambled to fix the black carbon-fibre bodied Prototype in time for one last attempt.

Toronto’s driver pulled onto the long uphill straight along the Detroit River with the track near close.  When the run was over, lightning finally struck for the team from Ontario: Toronto’s Supermileage Team 2 recorded a mileage equivalent of 3,421 miles per gallon (1,454 kilometres per litre) –  only two percent better than Laval.

Mater Dei took third place in the ultra-mileage Prototype gasoline category. Laval still holds the Shell Eco-marathon Americas all time high mark of 3,587 miles per gallon (1506 kilometres per litre) set in Houston two years ago.

Other winners

Colorado’s Wheat Ridge High School won the technically challenging Prototype hydrogen fuel cell category with a 151 miles (240 kilometres) per kilowatt-hour efficiency rate.  

Another Colorado team, University of Colorado Boulder, will be taking a trophy back to the Rocky Mountain state, winning the Prototype alternative fuels award for the second straight year. Their car, “Tatonkatoo” posted 842 miles per gallon (358 kilometres per litre) burning ethanol.

Sullivan High School won the Prototype diesel category for a third straight year with a mark of 1,436 miles per gallon (611 kilometres per litre).

On the UrbanConcept side of the competition, where the cars look and act more like those we drive every day, Mater Dei has long led the way with its perennial winner “Elroy”, and Sunday in Detroit was no different.  The team won with a 484 miles per gallon (206 kilometres per litre), far short of the Shell Eco-marathon Americas category record of 901 mile per gallon (378 kilometres per litre) they set last year in Houston.

The Evansville high school also won the Prototype category battery-electric in its Supermileage-3 car with an efficiency rating of 450 miles (724 kilometres) per kilowatt hour.

Competition, collaboration and camaraderie

Most teams, of course, don’t win, but come for the experience, camaraderie and to achieve their own improvement goals from year to year. And, every year, some teams don’t even get their cars onto the track. Sometimes something breaks and can’t be fixed, or the car doesn’t pass the rigorous safety and technical inspection required to drive in competition. Indeed, of 111 teams that made it to the inspections this year, only 89 passed. 

The new track, winding uphill and down through central Detroit, also proved challenging for student drivers who had to steer their low-slung, futuristic vehicles through sharp turns and elevation changes. There were more than a few crashes but no one hurt. Spectators lined the streets and sat in grandstands, cheering the teams as they made their way around the course.

Hello Motor City

Detroit welcomed the event with open arms and Shell expects the move to the nation’s automotive centre will help it grow even more with exposure to different parts of the country.

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