Design, driving ability and aerodynamics are worth precious seconds on this race track

Design, driving ability and aerodynamics are worth precious seconds on this race track

Handcrafted cars with names like Stampede, Eco-Rush and Nitrous Zigzag will tear through tiny gaps on a crowded race track and flat out – all in the name of the environment.

Pupils from more than 100 Victorian schools have spent the past year designing, engineering and optimizing their streamlined, energy efficient cars.

This weekend, they’ll put their creations and themselves to the test at the 30th Energy Breakthrough through the streets of Maryborough in Central Victoria.

The five-day event will culminate in a 24-hour enduro race that will challenge the fitness of each design, as well as the physical fitness of hundreds of school-age riders.

Maryborough Education Center teacher Jordan Macilwain was in elementary school when she first attended Energy Breakthrough.

Two decades later, she helps coordinate the school’s six-car campaign.

“There have been many changes but the fundamentals have remained the same in terms of the team environment and the qualities we want to bring out in the children,” said Ms Macilwain.

“The shape is the biggest change, like the nose, the width. It depends on the driver, of course, but the speed has increased a lot.”

king of the road

There are different categories and classes within Energy Breakthrough, but the challenge for the students is essentially the same: design, assemble and race the most energy efficient vehicle.

Most cars are referred to as HPVs, or human-powered vehicles.

It is unclear whether this vehicle is powered by solar energy, batteries or the force.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

They resemble recumbent tricycles with shells and fairing to make them suitable for endurance racing.

While rider fitness and training play a role, those designs that achieve the best compromise between comfort, presentation and aerodynamic efficiency prove to be the strongest contenders.

The Maryborough Education Center has entered three cars for the secondary school race, in addition to two primary school students and a technical school team.

Year 12 students Ella Bartlett and Joshua Britton are among the school’s drivers who will be in and out of the car over the course of the 24-hour race.

“You’re pretty much lying down and your gaze is straight ahead,” Ella said.

A car with the title
There is a lot of talk about this car on the track.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

“It’s very exciting to be among everyone else [on the track]. I feel like when you race against other “trikes” they push you to go much faster.

“People can bump into you pretty hard. It feels a bit dangerous but in our trike it’s pretty safe with all the roll bars and housing.”

The power is yours

For every student who gets behind the wheel of a car, there are several who spend their time and skill designing them or making sure they stay on track.

Ryan Ferris and Bohdan Mollard are part of the support crew at Morwell’s Kurnai College, which has entered two cars into the competition.

“I work with both of our vehicles whenever they need it,” said Bohdan.

“If the chain comes loose or there’s damage that needs to be repaired, then I’m done and dirty.”

Some schools have taken the design and technology aspect of Energy Breakthrough to another level.

Nathan Magri trades in a freshly charged battery.
Nathan Magri trades in a freshly charged battery in the Damascus College Sustainable Racing Team vehicle.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

Within the Energy Breakthrough competition there are classes in which vehicles with an electric motor can participate.

Ballarat’s Damascus College has competed in HPVs since 1998 and won the event in 2009.

“We normally have at least one HPV entry, but this year we thought we had the skills and equipment to make all of our vehicles electric,” said Rachel Beardall, program assistant for the Damascus College Sustainable Racing Team.

“There’s a lot more going into electric hybrid and electric vehicles. They have the engines and the transmission to do it right, but each of the cars is very different, so it’s actually good for the students,” she said.

Pit crew on standby

While HPVs require frequent driver rotations to keep them fresh, EV crews also need to swap out and recharge batteries.

Bailey Fuhrmeister, a 9th grade student, is one of the drivers at Damascus College.

He said that controlling an electric vehicle presents its own set of challenges.

“I think it’s more fun because cornering is more challenging and there’s also battery management,” he said.

“Battery conservation is a big deal.”

The 24-hour Energy Breakthrough secondary race starts at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and ends at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Final scores are calculated based on the distance traveled by each car during the event, the design and construction, and the way each entry is displayed and presented.

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