The University of Toronto’s Supermileage Team is hoping to retake the top spot at the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas (SEMA) competition, having snagged a silver medal last year.
The team, composed of U of T Engineering students, has been working around the clock to design and build two hyper-efficient vehicles to race in two categories: gasoline prototype and battery electric. They’ll put them to the test April 27 to 30 in Detroit, Mich.
“Last year we didn’t meet our own expectations — the team felt pretty deflated after the race,” says Supermileage team lead Mengqi Wang (ECE PhD candidate). “A lot of things went wrong that we weren’t expecting.”
This year, they’ve made some critical upgrades to the gasoline prototype vehicle, including improved braking, drive train and clutch systems, reduced rolling resistance and a new windshield, all of which they hope will help them recapture the first-place title they won in 2015.
“Of course we’re hoping to win, but the competition is fierce — we’d be happy with a top three finish,” says Wang.
Fabricating the windshield proved a particular challenge. At past competitions, driver Kristine Confalone (Year 4 ChemE) had to navigate largely by radio cues and intuition. The team stacked up almost 20 prototypes as they worked with industry partner Waveform Plastics to get the window clear enough for her to see out.
Their new battery electric vehicle is hitting the track for the first time, and has been an ambitious experiment from the start. Wang says that with a new design and rookie driver, at SEMA they aim to establish a baseline in the category — a standard for future generations of the team to surpass.
Those future cars will be designed and built in the forthcoming Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, where the team will have a dedicated club space on the lower floor of the new building.
“The CEIE is going to make a big difference to what the team can achieve,” says Wang. “I’m imagining being able to work on our systems simultaneously, and do the machining we do by hand, all in one place. It’s going to be great.”