Granite Falls ShopGirls’ car makes 470 mpg

GRANITE FALLS — Shortly after their last run, the ShopGirls already were talking about how their homemade car could eke out more distance to the drop of fuel next year.

And that’s after their car, dubbed Iron Maiden, traveled to what equates to 470 miles to the gallon.

They and a boys team from Granite Falls High School covered a course in downtown Houston over the weekend in a Shell Eco-marathon competition that attracted 42 student teams to design, build and test fuel-efficient vehicles. The goal was to travel the farthest distance using the least amount of energy.

Most teams were from universities.

After months of hard work, the ShopGirls had no competition in their diesel-fuel category. Another school expected to enter did not participate.

That did not deter the team from Granite Falls. Their goal all along had been to build a car that could compete and make it around the course.

After a few failed trials and hours spent late into the night and early morning hunched over their machinery, the crew was able to get the Iron Maiden to complete the course several times.

With each run, the team focused on improving the fuel efficiency, said Shante Stowell, a junior who worked on the chassis and suspension.

They experimented with speeds, coasted when it made sense and unhooked the alternator once the car was running to conserve energy.

“We learned a lot about driving strategies,” Stowell said.

Distance, not speed, was the goal at the 2010 Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

For the second year in a row, the student team from Laval University in Quebec, Canada, took home the grand prize. It tallied 2,487 miles per gallon,

The experience made both teams from Granite Falls eager to try again.

“We want to take two cars next year,” said Erica Jensen, the team manager and driver for the girls’ team.

“We learned a lot this year,” said sophomore Hunter Waldron, a member of the boys’ team. “We know a lot more.”

The high school recently learned it will receive another $10,000 federal grant that aims to prepare girls for high-demand jobs in nontraditional fields. The original grant got the car-building project rolling in Granite Falls.

Student teams were invited to participate in either the prototype or urban concept categories.

In the prototype category, which the ShopGirls entered, teams entered futuristic prototypes that were streamlined vehicles focused on maximizing fuel efficiency through innovative design elements, such as drag reduction.

For the urban concept category, which the Granite Falls boys entered, teams built more road worthy fuel-efficient vehicles. Aimed at meeting the real-life needs of drivers, these vehicles are closer in appearance to the cars seen on roads today.

In both categories, teams could use any conventionally available energy source, such as diesel, gas and liquid petroleum gas, or alternative fuels such as hydrogen, biomass and solar.

The ShopGirls were one of three teams to win a $500 safety award for the most extensive efforts to comply with the safety regulations. They also won $1,000 for winning their diesel category.

There were plenty of thrills for the boys’ team.

Their two-seater was picked to give Shell President Marvin Odum a loop around the course for the parade lap.

“It was great,” said James Vest, a junior.

The boys’ car didn’t meet the weight requirements to compete, but it was allowed to participate.

“It got a lot of attention,” Waldron, a sophomore.

Michael Werner, the industrial arts teacher who worked with the girls’ and boys’ teams, said both groups should feel good about what they have accomplished over the long and grueling months of building their cars from scratch.

“Both cars were really high-quality cars and held their own,” he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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