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With Duct Tape and Determination, Mater Dei Seeks to Defend Its Title

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Mater Dei High School's 6th gasoline prototype vehicles races for efficiency at Shell Eco-marathon in Houston today. Photo courtesy of Shell Eco-marathon.

In order to gain easy access to work on the engine between heats, students from Mater Dei High School of Evansville, Indiana, typically build their Shell Eco-marathon cars to open like unhinged clamshells. However, as coach Dan Ritter explains, duct tape works surprisingly well at holding everything together on the track.

It seems to have done quite well, as Mater Dei last year turned in first place performance in every category it entered, beating out universities with large engineering programs. (See: “Mater Dei, Louisiana Tech Score Eco-marathon Victories”) Mater Dei’s prototype vehicle had a best run of 2,188.6 mpg (926.4 km/l), and its street-legal urban concept vehicle achieved 611 mpg (258.6 km/l). And Mater Dei’s prototype gasoline vehicle (above) was in second place in its category after today’s heats, with mileage of 2,308 mpg (981 km/l).

Ritter, parent of one of the team members, has one son, a former Mater Dei team member, graduating from Notre Dame in chemical engineering, while his other son, a senior, is set to attend Purdue next year. (See: “Hoosiers Make a Strong Showing at Shell Eco-marathon 2012“) Ritter says the team has been meeting every Sunday in his barn to work on their four cars. “They need a place where they can let everything set,” he says. (There are no shop facilities at their small school.)

Even though they had top mileage last year, the Mater Dei team was not satisfied. Their pull starter, which required the driver to reach over his or her shoulder and yank a cord (like starting a lawn mower), would cause the car to wobble and that eats up valuable fuel. So the team replaced the pull starter with an electric starter. However, the starter they bought on the Internet wouldn’t work; the polarity was wrong and had to be reversed. Sophomore Michael Kercher explains how: