The Indiana Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Alliance (IMSTEA) invited 48 teams of high school students from across Indiana to the 2007 Super Mileage Challenge earlier this week. Students designed and built super fuel-efficient cars, some with efficiency levels of greater than 1,000mpg, to compete in the challenge.
The cars typically cost around $300 to $400 to build, with more competitive designs reaching the $2,000 to $3,000 range. As teams build the cars, major focus is put on aerodynamics and driving style.
At the beginning of the competition, each car is given 300gm of fuel. The cars’ gas tanks are weighed before they take 10 laps totaling 6.25 miles. After each run, cars have their gas tanks re-weighed to calculate fuel usage and efficiency. The cars have a 25-min maximum time limit for each run. They also must stay above 15mph and below 30mph, though most cars try to keep it closer to 15mph for the best fuel efficiency.
The competition is broken up into two classes: stock and unlimited. The stock class utilizes a stock/non-modified engine, while the unlimited class allows for an altered engine. This year, Mater Dei High School from Evansville, IN won the stock class competition with 1,365.41mpg, and Lafayette Jefferson High School from Lafayette, IN won the unlimited class competition with 1,350.02mpg. The advantage of building a stock car over an unlimited car is increased time from not having to deal with the engine and being able to focus more on driving technique. Also, some students use low-rolling resistance tires, which help a little with gas mileage.
IMSTEA, established in 1990, has sponsored the Super Mileage Challenge since it’s beginning in 1995. “We like to sponsor conferences that feature integrated curriculum programs, programs where kids learn math science and technology all together,” says IMSTEA President Jim Thompson.
Some common problems tend to recur in each competition. Thompson says “in an effort to save weight, they (the competitors) will make things much too skimpy, and they’ll get out on the track and break an axel or break an engine mount or something.” It even appears that there are problems resulting from overthinking the process. “The most frequent problem is they think they need some kind of transmission, so they’ll use the bicycle derailer transmissions and they keep throwing chains,” says Thompson.
This year’s winner, Mater Dei, had competed a few weeks earlier to the Super Mileage challenge in the Shell-sponsored Eco-Marathon Americas. During this April 14th competition, Mater Dei placed third against predominantly college-aged competitors with 1,596mpg. This is quite a feat, considering the original winner of the first Super Mileage Challenge won with approximately 250mpg.