MANILA, Philippines–To the cynic, the Shell Eco-marathon might just be one giant PR stunt meant to attract attention, cause some unfounded excitement, and, for motorists who passed through Luneta/Rizal Park and Roxas Boulevard over this weekend, a source of unnecessary traffic. Fortunately, it’s far from it.
The Shell Eco-marathon is all about building the characters of young people. The year 2015 marks the sixth edition of the Asian Leg, with Malaysia having hosted the first four editions, and Manila hosting the 2014 and 2015 editions. Incidentally, 2014 marked Shell’s centenary in the country.
But back to the character building part. Teams are composed of eight undergrad students plus an adviser. There can be of course more personnel involved, but the official count, come race day, is eight. Imagine college students from the best technical schools around the Asia-Pacific and African regions building rocket-science stuff? Impressive.
The cars are divided into two main categories: urban concept vehicles, which must essentially look like possible road-going vehicles of the future; and prototypes, the slim, streamlined vehicles an innocent child might doodle away. Under these two main categories are subcategories for gasoline, diesel, alternative fuels (ethanol, CNG and hydrogen), electric- and solar-powered vehicles.
But what makes them character-building efforts are a set of technical regulations that weed out the so-so projects from the seriously-thought-out builds that showcase the possible future of motoring.
Many teams attempted to qualify, but many fail to do so. Many teams reach the finals in foreign countries, but still, many fail to make it to the starting grid because they failed to qualify (cars must accomplish 10 laps in 29 minutes around a fixed circuit) or encountered technical problems.
In one case, a team from Egypt accidentally had their cars and equipment shipped to Malaysia instead of Manila last year. They almost did not run. Thankfully, a local school lent them a spare car from the previous year. Ironically, this Egyptian team, which had failed to race for three consecutive years, finally got to run and participate in the race proper in a borrowed car which they rebuilt to their standards in two days.
If modern professional Formula 1 teams can rebuild an entire car overnight, then undergraduate students building their own race car in two days is an impressive feat!
Indeed, many teams who simply achieve to participate in the finals find it a blessing, having tested their mettle, skills, resilience, resourcefulness and knowledge to reach the starting grid.
This year saw a record 120 teams from 17 countries from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand competing in Manila. It’s an international competition which ironically fosters close cooperation. Teams often consult with fellow teams on many technical issues to help them attain the technical standards required to race.
It goes back to a very humble beginning. In 1939, Shell employees in a research facility in Wood River, Illinois, United States, started a competition among themselves to see how far they could go with a specific amount of fuel and called it the Shell Mileage Challenge.
The current format as we know it today started in France in 1985. There are now three main final legs: Europe (being held this year in Rotterdam); United States, held in Detroit; and Asia, which will be held in Manila for another year this coming 2016.
There are talks of expanding the race, by creating a singular final edition from the best teams in the three regions of United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific, or bringing in smaller events across the world to allow more teams (and people) to participate in a world-class event.
Today, the current Asian record-holder is from Panjavidhya Technological College of Thailand, which covered an amazing 2,730 kilometers on a single liter of 100-percent ethanol fuel, the equivalent distance from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Manila. Now that is amazing fuel efficiency! Still, it lags behind a team from France which achieved 3,700-plus kilometers in a single liter of ethanol.
Focus on advocacy
Because of the prominence of this event, Shell has attracted major global partners such as Hewlett-Packard, Michelin, Southwest Research Institute and The Linde Group. Advertising is strongly discouraged, with the focus being on advocacy towards a better, greener, more environment-friendly tomorrow.
Locally, Shell has also partnered with conglomerates like Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines, Globe Business, Nestlé Philippines, Unilever Philippines, Hyundai, SEA Olympus and Isla LPG Corp. The city government of Manila under Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno were very helpful and accommodated the event in the historic city.
I had cheekily asked Lyndon Lumain, Pilipinas Shell project manager for the Shell Eco-marathon if Shell ever gets involved somehow with technology from a team that displays a viable commercial future.
Lyndon smiled and flat-out said no. “We prefer the teams to own their technology themselves, we do not get involved with it. In fact, we try to help them promote and develop the technology indirectly by giving them access to technical information or whatever else we can provide,” he said.
“The ideal scenario would be that major car manufacturers and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) suppliers see the technology themselves and form their own partnership with teams that hold or own an interesting technology which is viable for future commercial use,” Lyndon added.
The Shell Eco-marathon is about giving back to a community, and by allowing the brightest of young minds to compete in an intense yet controlled and ultimately friendly environment. These students will one day be leaders in their respective fields, which will help pave the way for a better, brighter, cleaner and more environment-friendly tomorrow.
While there are 24 winners in overall fuel-efficiency/economy with corresponding trophies and prize money, there are also a number of offtrack awards, most notable of which is the Spirit of Competition Award, given to the team that has overcome the greatest hurdles and challenges, and transforming the team to a more cohesive, competitive and mature group from start to finish of the event.
The aforementioned team from Egypt, which had their vehicle accidentally shipped to Malaysia and competed in Manila using a borrowed car, won the said event last year.
Lastly, the Shell Eco-marathon is an event that allows the youth to dream, and dream big, and to think of a concept, create it, test it, refine it without any predispositions, inclinations or biases towards anything, starting off with a clean and clear state of mind. Because many times, the best way forward is from a clean slate. As the saying goes, the youth are our future.
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