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With a New Look, French Teams Take Top Prizes in Shell Eco-marathon Europe

For several years running, French engineering students from two neighboring Loire Valley schools, Polytech Nantes and La Joliverie, have shared engineering and effort to build rocket-shaped vehicles that captured top prizes at Shell Eco-marathon Europe fuel efficiency race. But the students began to feel there was something lacking in their cars’ perennially award-winning profile.

“It didn’t look like a car,” explained Nantes student Frederic Calvez.

So the students designed Cityjoule, a super-compact, but street-legal electric blue coupe powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. This weekend in Rotterdam, Polytech Nantes left all other competitors in the dust by clocking a result of 145.7 kilometers (90.5 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the energy equivalent of traveling 1,296.7 kilometers on a liter of gasoline, or 3,049.9 miles per gallon. Not only did Polytech Nantes take first prize in the hydrogen-powered urban concept (street-legal) category, it bested its nearest competitor, Bulgaria’s University of Sofia, by more than 75 percent and achieved nearly double the mileage of last year’s winner. (Related Quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Cars And Fuel“)

For good measure, Nantes’ partner school La Joliverie from Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire showed that the team’s traditional aerodynamic styling still is effective. Team Microjoule, as it is called, sailed to victory in the gasoline prototype vehicle category for the third consecutive year, with a result of 2,980.3 km/liter (8,420.4 mpg)—enough, race organizers noted, to drive from Rotterdam to Athens on a single liter of fuel. (Related: “French Teams From Loire Valley Grab Top Prizes in Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2012“)

Microjoule’s result fell short of the competition record it set for its category in 2011: 3,688 km/l  (8,674.7 mpg.) But that previous record was set on a race track in France, before the competition moved last year to the 10-mile (16.3-kilometer) street circuit in Rotterdam, a course that includes five 90-degree turns. It makes the achievement even more impressive for the Cityjoule car, with a result marked a 40-percent improvement over the Shell Eco-marathon Europe record for urban concept hydrogen vehicles, set on the more forgiving track.

“Winning has blown our minds!” said team member Maxime Cheval after the race.

The French students prevailed among more than 180 college and high school teams from 24 countries. Each year, students vie to design, build, and race the most fuel efficient vehicle in Shell Eco-marathon, a 29-year-old race that now encompasses three separate annual events on three continents. The Americas edition took place in Houston in April, while the Asia competition is scheduled for July in Kuala Lumpur. (Related: “Super-Efficient Cars Cruise to New Victories at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013“)

In an interview before the race, Polytech Nantes students Frederic Calvez and Stéphane Aubert explained why the team opted to retire their winning prototype vehicle and take on the greater challenge of building and racing an urban concept car.

The French students were so methodical about the competition that they purposefully set out to be first in line for the rigorous pre-race technical inspection, where everything from the brakes, steering, weight, dimensions,  energy system, and even the decibel level of the horn are tested for conformity to the rules. “Being first in the queue is part of our overall strategy,” said the team’s manager, Valentin Evon, at the time. “If we have a problem and don’t pass the inspection, then we have all day to create a solution.”

The Shell Eco-marathon victory was the second win this month for the Polyjoule team, as Polytech Nantes and La Joliverie call their combined super-mileage car effort. Earlier in May, the blue Cityjoule won the Educ Eco competition in Colomiers, France, with an even more impressive result of 1,402 kilometers-per-liter-equivalent, or 3,297 miles-per-gallon-equivalent. (Read their blog on their experience: “Making a Stop Before Eco-marathon“)

Here’s a list of the other winners:

Prototype Vehicles:

  • Team SCS Pasquet of France’s solar car smashed previous records in the battery-electric category with its winning result of 1,224.1 km (760.6 miles) per kilowatt-hour. Based on gasoline equivalency (1 gallon delivers the same energy as 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electric power), that’s tantamount to mileage of 10,897.4 km/l (25,632.2 mpg). Under a rule change this year, solar and battery-electric cars were combined in one category, and students had to integrate the solar panels into the body of the car, rather than have large overhanging panels. Team SCS Pasquet bested the previous battery electric record by 45 percent, and marked a 60 percent leap in fuel-efficiency over last year’s solar car winner.
  • Another French team, INSA from Toulouse, topped the alternative petrol (ethanol and biodiesel) category, with a result of 2,846.2 km/l (6,696 mpg).
  • In the Prototype alternative diesel category, Team Roses-4-Eco from the Netherlands, running on natural gas-to-liquids fuel, won with 314.6 km/l (750.1 mpg.)
  • Dutch team H2A of Hogeschool van Amsterdam took first place in the Prototype hydrogen category, with a result 342.2 km (212.6 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the equivalent of 3,046 km/l (7,164.6) mpg.
  • In the diesel category, Team GMP Valenciennes won with 1,236.1 km/l (2,908.1 mpg) equivalent.

Urban Concept:

  • In the battery-electric category, Team Electricar Solution of France won by beating its own 2012 record by more than 40 percent with a result of 376.2 km (233.8 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the energy equivalent of 3,349.8 km/l (7,879.1 mpg) on gasoline.
  • Another record came from German Team Schluckspecht, achieving 315.4 km/l (741.9 mpg) to win the diesel category.
  • The DTU Roadrunners of Denmark beat their own record from 2012 with 612.3 km/l (1,440.5 mpg) in the ethanol category.
  • Team SKAP from Poland came first in the gasoline category with 334.2 km/l (786.3 mpg), edging record-holders Lycée Louis Delage of France, who achieved 425 km/l (999.6 mpg) in 2005.

The full results are available at Shell’s Eco-marathon website.

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