Ryan Chartrand

Cal Poly’s supermileage team won first place and $10,000 for the university at the first Shell Eco-Marathon Americas for its vehicle that traveled at 1,902.7 miles per gallon on April 14.

The event, which took place in Fontana, Calif., challenged students from across the United States and Canada to drive their vehicles the farthest distance using the least amount of fuel, either conventional or alternative.

Cal Poly won the grand prize, as well as first place in the combustion energy group. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. came in second with 1,637.2 miles per gallon, and Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind. came in third with 1,596 miles per gallon.

Mechanical engineering senior Tom Heckel, team manager for Cal Poly’s supermileage team, hopes these competitions will help shape future vehicles and make them more environmentally friendly. The planning for this year’s vehicle was started about two years ago. A race was finished last year with 861 miles per gallon.

“This win was a large jump from last year and I didn’t really expect it,” Heckel said. “I hope it helps to expand the club and get more members.”

Heckel came to Cal Poly last year as a transfer student, and was looking for a club to join when he came upon the supermileage club. The eight members of the team work well together, and Heckel said they even spend time with each other outside of the club.

“I loved working on this project,” Heckel said. “Our vehicle was a mix of last year’s entry along with a bunch of new components.”

The Shell Eco-marathon has been successful in Europe and the United Kingdom for more than 20 years. The eight-student teams gain hands-on experience, from vehicle design to financing, while managing their project and applying skills in science, technology, mathematics, business and design.

The vehicles can be powered by conventional or alternative fuels, liquid petroleum gas, biofuels, compressed natural gas, hydrogen or solar power. There were 18 conventional fuel-powered entries, one hydrogen-powered entry and one solar-powered entry at the Americas competition.

David Sexton, president of U.S. Shell Oil Products, said in a press release the innovative ideas of students and the exchange of information that takes place at the Shell Eco-marathon demonstrates what is necessary to address the energy challenges of today.

“There’s not one answer; we must have a broad spectrum of economically, socially and environmentally viable energy solutions to meet the future’s mobility demands,” Sexton said in a press release.

The Shell Eco-marathon started as the Shell Mileage Marathon in 1939 when employees of Shell Oil’s research laboratory in Wood River, Ill. got into an argument over whose car was the most fuel-efficient. The rules were as simple as the concept they created: to see which vehicle could go the farthest distance on the least amount of fuel.

The 2007 European Shell Eco-marathon is taking place at the Nogaro Racing Circuit in the South of France on May 11 to 13. With over 250 teams from educational institutions in 20 different countries, this year’s event is set to be the biggest.

“The Shell Eco-marathon is intended to inspire these students, the engineers and scientists of the future, to help us provide mobility that is cleaner, safer and more efficient and more affordable than ever before,” Sexton said in a press release.

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