Stall 333 in the paddock at the Ahoy Arena is empty now. Every cable-tie has been picked up. Every strip of duct-tape has been ripped off the floor. We even borrowed a brush so we wouldn’t be outdone by our spotless German and Greek stablemates. The Geec’s odyssey at Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2015 has come to an end. And what an ending it was.
If yesterday was about building experience and reliability, today was about taking every risk we possibly could to squeeze every last Joule out of the Geec. So we fitted “The Sprocket”. The sprocket was our secret weapon. The “so crazy it just might work” kind of secret weapon. Unlike almost any other car, the objective of an Eco-marathon car is to go as slow as the rules allow. The purpose of our 10-tooth sprocket was to bring the maximum speed of the Geec right down, while still letting our motor work at its most efficient setting: full throttle. The problem was we hadn’t had time to test it. We reckoned in theory it should slow the car down to the right speed, but it was going to be VERY close to the minimum. Slow the Geec down too much and our run would be declared void. Luckily not many team members had any nails left to bite!
With the car running so close to the limit, the team decided we should go with our more experienced driver Maryrose. With only one run left and a shorter racing window than usual, the pressure was on to get on track. Pressure. Tyre pressure! Hugh insisted on re-inflating the tyres in the moments before the race. Yet again, high-risk high-reward. Get the inflation right, and Maryrose gets to shave a few Joules of rolling resistance losses from the Geec’s total. Get the inflation of the rear wheel wrong, and it’s a heck of a job getting the entire shell off to get a proper look at it. Such a job that we would probably get put back to the start of the queue, and even miss our slot. Fortunately, Hugh’s nickname isn’t “The Bike Man” for nothing. In fact, Hugh’s nickname isn’t “The Bike Man” at all. But it probably should be, because he inflates a mean tyre while under pressure!
After Maryrose made her usual assured, silent start, those of us in the stand reflected on the evolution of our thoughts over the week. Gone were the nightmare scenarios of “Will we lose a wheel?”, “Will the hatch fall off?” (OK that did happen, but we fixed it and it never happened again!), “Will we be sorry we put an Irish flag on the car?”. In their place were questions we can only assume the “serious” Eco-marathon-ers ask themselves. “How good will this run be?”, “Who can we pass on the scoreboard if we make an extra 10 km/kWh?”, “How do we make sure we get to do this again next year?”. Even the Michelin Man, who tells us his name is “Bibendum” wanted to get to know us.
Maryrose made a flawless run and we waited with baited breath for official word of our score. The sprocket worked its mechanical magic. “National University of Ireland Galway ‘the Geec’ 287 km/kWh”. That beaut of a sprocket! What a way to finish our Eco-marathon; with a stellar improvement of 85 km/kWh over our previous best score. For those of you who long for a simpler time, that’s about 8,000 miles per gallon! When we launched the Geec back in April, we squeezed 1,700 mpg out of it.
So what’s left to say? How about thank you. Thank you all our sponsors in Galway and the West of Ireland. Wood Group Kenny, Belcross Enterprises, Central Bearing Supplies, Smurfit Kappa, Quicktec Computers, Sinbad Marine, Maxon Motor, and Enform. Special thanks go to all at Shell E&P Ireland, who got us off the ground and the NUI Galway College of Engineering and Informatics, and Disciplines of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who kept us there. Thanks also to our colleagues, classmates, and past and present teammates who could not travel.
We’re engineers, so let’s talk numbers. At 287 km/kWh, the Geec would use 13 cents worth of electricity to drive from Galway to Dublin. 51 teams from across Europe and North Africa entered the battery electric prototype category. 43 of these teams passed technical inspection. 33 teams were able to complete at least one valid lap; that means they got around the 16 km circuit in less than 39 minutes. The Geec in its Eco-Marathon debut finished 23rd in the battery electric category. The team has pushed this incarnation of the Geec to the limits of what it can achieve. Plans are already afoot at NUI Galway to build an improved Geec for the 2016 Eco-Marathon in London. Like all good engineers, we have a 5-year plan, but details about that will have to wait!
Eco-Marathon 2015 was the experience of a lifetime for the members of the team lucky enough to travel. We met some great people, saw some incredible cars up close, and had fantastic fun. We learned a lot, no actually AN AWFUL LOT, about how to design, build and drive an ultra-efficient vehicle. But most of all, we learned about ourselves and each other. We learned how much it takes to get through technical inspection. We learned how to wring every last drop from our car. We learned how to challenge ourselves with the best of Europe and how to compete among them. We learned that we can do all of this. But we learned we can do it better. This is just the beginning…