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UC Santa Barbara Supermileage Team Kicks Off at an Exclusive Conference

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Supermileage team members Elan Franz and Daniel Samarin show off Eleanor at the ECO:nomics conference March 22.

We survived finals week at UC Santa Barbara and instead of kicking back for Spring Break, we hit the road to Houston, Texas, for the 2012 Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition.

Our car “Eleanor” is looking sharp. The paint job on the aerodynamic fairing was finished in time to exhibit at the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics Conference last week, where we were invited to display our car and talk to business and technology leaders about the competition. At the conference, people were enthusiastic about the vehicle and the competition all around. Great way to kick off!

This year we’re competing again in the Futuristic Prototype category, meaning you design the most streamlined vehicle possible to reduce drag. Shell Eco-marathon competitors have set world records for fuel economy. Last year, the team from Laval University in Quebec set the bar at 2,564 miles per gallon on a gas engine. We’re definitely aiming to get over 1,000 mpg. We’ve made some modifications on Eleanor this year that should make it one of the best cars in the competition.

We don’t just build the car – for most of us this is our Mechanical Engineering capstone project before graduation. It’s hands-on work, planning for the technology we’re going to use, designing the engine, and tuning it up until the car can run and compete. About twice a week we took the vehicle on trial runs to find and fix problems as we adjusted to a newly designed system.

Mechanical Engineering seniors have raced our car three times in the past. We inherited this project and decided to completely change out the engine. The original car had a 50cc, 2-stroke Aprilia® scooter motor that we replaced with a clean, lighter, and more efficient 4-stroke Honda weedwacker engine. We also put in a CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission. The new transmission also enables us to get a wide range of gear ratios from start-up to running. We adjusted the drivetrain so that it would work with the new engine, according to specs from Shell for this year’s competition, and added some safety features for the driver.

The competition starts today. Everyone on the UCSB Supermileage Team is excited and we’ve been looking forward to this for months. As a team, we have organized and raised funds to make this happen, and it’s something we can definitely say is our project.

Check out our video about building the new system and test-driving our vehicle for the competition: