The Rice Solar Car Team came as close as possible to winning their division of the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2015 without actually winning or even quite completing the final lap.
“We finished 6.8 of the seven laps. About 150 yards from the finish line we lost our drive chain. The judges said we would have won if that hadn’t happened. Our fuel efficiency was the equivalent of over 900 miles per gallon,” said Nathan Bucki, a sophomore in mechanical engineering (MECH) and president of the Rice Solar Car Team.
Bucki and 13 teammates competed against six other teams in the urban concept/battery-electrical division of the annual competition, held April 9-12 in Detroit. More than 1,000 students from 113 high schools and universities in five countries (U.S., Brazil, Canada, Guatemala and Mexico) competed to build vehicles that could travel furthest on the least amount of fuel.
Team members who attended the competition in Detroit with Bucki were: Juan Borbon (the team’s driver), David Chan, Kurt Ko, Andrew Markam, Adam McMullen, Ivan Tanakov, seniors in MECH; Zihe Huang, senior in electrical and computer engineering; Ben Lewis, senior in physics; Amelia Bian, Luke Daniels, Allen Zhao, sophomores in MECH; Philip Taffet, sophomore in computer science and mathematics; Mike Hua, freshman in MECH.
The team was plagued with mechanical problems, requiring installation of a new gearbox and motor. “The whole weekend was solid work on the car,” Bucki said. “People were sleeping, like two hours a night.”
The rules for the race have become increasingly stringent, Bucki said. On the first day, the Rice team was delayed because of its failure to pass a technical inspection, which required them to adjust their safety harness, eliminate all play in the steering and trim part of the body to allow for more ground clearance.
To qualify, each team was required to complete seven laps of the 0.9-mile course on city streets in Detroit in less than 25 minutes. The overall winning entry in the gasoline-fueled prototype category, from the University of Toronto, achieved the equivalent of 3,421 miles per gallon.
“I think we learned that we’ve got to start earlier and we’ve got to expect problems along the way. I’m not even really a car guy, but I learned something about what it means to be an engineer,” Bucki said.
The Rice Solar Car Team is sponsored by the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the departments of mechanical and electrical and computer engineering at Rice, the office of the dean of engineering, the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, DS Solidworks and Maxon Precision Motors.
–Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications
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