Three teams of young engineers battle to build some of the world's most fuel-efficient cars,
high tech vehicles that can do thousands of miles per gallon.
They are pushing technology -- and themselves - to the limit.
Who will succeed when the teams go head to head?
Who will face disaster?
This is the world of Shell Eco-marathon.
The Eco-marathon is a competition to find the world's most economical vehicles.
It's open to student engineers as a way to inspire them to design, build, and race the
next generation of automotive technology.
With oil running out and the number of vehicles on the planet set to double to 2 billion by
2050, these tiny cars offer a glimpse of the future.
Today, Shell's Eco-marathon is a global series of events held across Asia, Europe and the
Americas. In Spring 2013, 150 student teams converged on Downtown Houston, Texas to battle
for the Americas title.
This is the story of three of those teams.
Its mid-February in Canada, with just 7 weeks until the big event.
And a team from Universit Laval, Quebec is getting ready for this year's challenge,
after a nightmare last time out.
My name is Philippe Bouchard. I'm the General Manager of Alerion Supermileage Team from
Laval University, Quebec, Canada.
We won Shell Eco Marathon three years in a row but last year we had a disaster when our
car wouldn't start.
So this year we changed things a little bit. We made smaller teams that work on specific
areas of the car. Among them you have Louis-David who works on the electronics.
You have Guillaume who designed the shell.
And we have Lucas who is in charge of the clutch system.
Last, but not least we have Audrey our driver.
I'm training because I want to lose some weight for the competition.
One of the keys to winning the Eco-marathon is to keep the all in weight of the car as
light as possible. So, Audrey is trying to get as close as she can to the minimum driver
weight allowed, 110 pounds.
To minimise weight further Laval uses an ultra lightweight carbon fibre body.
The car category is called a Prototype. These are single seat, 3-wheeled cars. The two wheels
at the front of the car are for steering, the rear wheel is for drive.
The Canadians compete in the highly competitive gasoline fuel class.
Their motor started life as a single cylinder, 3.5 horsepower lawnmower engine, but it's
been heavily modified to improve fuel efficiency.
This package is a winning formula. Laval currently holds the All Americas gasoline prototype
record of 3168 miles per gallon.
It's a good occasion to prove ourselves to the world, what we can do, what we can accomplish
as young engineers.
At the Shell Eco-marathon in Houston, each car is supplied with an identical amount of
fuel - the fuel-efficiency is then calculated over 10 laps of the 0.6-mile circuit.
But, completing the 6-mile distance isn't easy, as the Canadians know only too well,
from last year.
I tried and tried to start the engine by pushing a little button more than ten times but it
never worked so it was very frustrating.
Getting such a fail last year, we feel we have to get back on top.
Now, with just 7 weeks until the competition, there's intense pressure on Louis-David and
his team to redesign the engine management system so that the motor runs consistently.
But so far, they haven't even got it started...
The bolts we were using to the crankshaft position just snapped off. It was so close
We have some combustion so the force just broke our three plastic bolts so we've got
to replace them.
Meanwhile, 860 miles south, in the United States, there's growing excitement among the
students of James B Dudley High School.
How you doing? I'm Terry Wallace.
My name is Nazih Magao.
Hey, I'm Brayan Cruz and I'm captain of the Dudley Motor sports.
My name is Zachary Apple.
I'm Rochelle Musebed and I'm the driver.
Who are we, Dudley, Who are we, Dudley..... Oooooaah.
For me being in this competition is just very exciting. I just can't wait to get there.
I love this, this is the best thing I have ever done with my life so far... It's a life
And we're ready to win.
These high school students come from a deprived neighbourhood of Greensboro, North Carolina...
The team here at James B Dudley high school is unique... They're from about 5 to 6 different
countries... And speak about 10 different languages.
They're just learning English, they don't usually have a lot of money, a lot of them
have come from refugee camps, so of course they don't have anything when they get here.
Resources in the school are also stretched, so the students are forced to build their
cars on virtually no money.
Red flip the switch...
Flip it the other way, it's backwards.
In two years competing at Houston, the Dudley Panthers have failed to record a single valid
This year, they're hoping to double their chances of success by entering a car in both
Eco-marathon vehicle categories.
Their first car is in the Prototype category, the same as the Canadians, if a little more
Their second will compete in the Urban Concept category. This is a more practical vehicle
-- among other things it must have headlights, turning signals and 4 wheels - closer in design
to the cars you see on the road.
There are also six fuel categories to choose from - the Panthers have opted for battery/electric,
for both cars, due to the lower development costs.
Their lack of cash has also forced them to approach their builds very differently to
other teams - both cars are made entirely from junk.
We just don't have enough money to buy new things for the car. We always have to recycle.
This back here they're from the umbrella from a picnic table. Let's see...
This right here come from a treadmill, these right here are vacuum poles, this is a child
And that's where the engineering comes where we find something in the shop or find something
in the road and we need to think about how we can apply it to the vehicle.
And it works a little bit!
In the Brazilian surf Mecca of Florianopolis... there's trouble in paradise for Team E3...
Last year, the Brazilians finished 7th in the same category as the Canadians. This year
they're aiming for a top three place.
Time is their greatest challenge. due to the distance from Texas, the boys and girls from
Brazil must freight their car to Houston a week earlier than the teams in North America.
This means a week less to build and test the car, and with just a month to go, there's
only a frame and a pile of parts.
We need to get the car ready this week...
It means hard work and some late nights...
It's almost midnight and we're still here. We have to finish it tonight otherwise our
schedule will suffer a big delay.
New driver, Christina is worried. She's only just joined the team and is desperate to test-drive
a completed car.
I'm really nervous because I'm still going to learn how to drive the best way. Last year
our driver crashed and I really hope I don't do this.
The team have to assemble everything before trying to run the engine for the first time.
They work into the early hours to get it done, but fatigue sets in...
We forgot about the oil in the engine so that would be bad.
Finally, at 4am they're ready to start the engine.
Well we started the engine but we couldn't keep on moving, keep on working. We actually
don't know why but then we had some problems with the starter of the engine. At least the
horn is working.
For the Dudley Panthers in Greensboro, North Carolina, building two cars from scrap is
proving time consuming.
As the Houston deadline looms their 'to do' list is daunting.
So what we got to do is get the wires straight, on top of that we also need to work on the
body The roof
The steering. Our doors.
We need to make sure that the brakes work. Engine.
Yeh, but not only that, it's like unorganised.
They are way behind schedule -- Head of automotive mechanics, Ricky Lewis, calls a crisis meeting.
If they can't get their act together they won't be going anywhere.
I worry about y'all, you guys gotta be about it, you got to get focused attention to what
I guess who wants to go to Houston? But you got to show enthusiasm energy work your butts
off out there. Okay? No standing around. Work!
This is one shot, one shot guys! It's a once in a lifetime thing and if you
guys think sat around just thinking you're just going and if you think you can't win
you've lost already.
Guys, weve got to dig in. We go back out there and say were going to be successful. Thats
what we want you to do We want you to be successful. Let's knock
it out guys. Mmm, mmm, work, work, mmm. Come on.
What he said it was very, very, true.
I didn't really like it but you know it needs to be done.
In Brazil, after failing to get the engine running last night, the team makes final adjustments
before trying again...
We just broke our engine.
They must strip and re-build it from scratch.
The team has badly misjudged the time it takes to assemble a car and the broken engine forces
the co-captains to make a critical decision.
I think the best would be to postpone the test with the car for 2 weeks.
This new schedule allows them more time to re-build the engine, but little time to test-drive
the completed car...
The time Christina thought she had to perfect her driving style has just disappeared.
In 2 weeks, the car must be shipped to Houston.
Let's hope that my part is OK, too. I have to practice.
In Canada, the winter weather drastically restricts testing.
Quebec is known for having one of the worst winters in North America.
We get snow and ice. It's pretty much freezing all through the winter so that's a big problem
for us because we can't test the car outside.
But the Canadians have planned for this...
The kind of innovation that we need to develop to overcome the weather are a dynamometer
like the one we have right here which allow us to make some engine tests inside. We can
know our fuel consumption and also the torque that we develop during the winter.
On the track, the Laval team will use a crafty driving technique. When the car reaches 18
miles per hour they switch off the engine and the car coasts to save fuel. The engine
is restarted when the car's speed drops to 10 miles per hour. It's called a run-kill
With this strategy we can go really far because we're not running the engine all the time.
So, we save fuel.
The winter weather also prevents team driver Audrey from driving the car outside until
she hits the track in Houston.
This is her first and last opportunity to sit in the car, to check out her driving position
and practice the run-kill procedure.
When I want to turn off the engine I turn the switch like this to off and when I want
to start the engine again I push the start... Like this and we don't do it now.
In the USA, The Dudley Panthers are turning things around. Their car might be ready for
a test drive but their driver isn't...
I'm a little nervous... I feel fat.
This is the moment of truth... When the Panthers find out if their hard work has paid off.
Ok we gotta go now. Watch your heads. I think we're going to do it right in here for now.
But there's a problem... Driver Rochelle is a driving novice.
Ok just go real easy, wait wait wait wait, woah hey guys. OK, the faster you go the easier
it is to turn. So come on round. Hey guys see the wheel went down. Slow it down a little
bit. Don't go too fast there. Got to get you used to it.
Is she alright? ....Is she alright?
No I'm good.
You sure? Ok.
I kind of flipped the car over a little bit but now I've learned what mistakes I did wrong
and I'm going to do better. Us Dudley Panthers we're not going to let
nothing stop us.
Very good, great day.
Back in the Brazilian workshop, the team have repaired their engine.
It starts first time.
It looks like their worries are over.
Yah, I'm the guy!
Brener spoke too soon... The engine breaks again.
It's not just the engine that's destroyed. Their schedule is also in pieces.
They have just 3 weeks until the Eco-marathon in Houston, but they need at least a week
to ship the car there.
This leaves them just 2 weeks to rebuild the engine for a second time and get the car race
ready. Time is running out, fast.
It's very bad our situation right now. We need like plan B.
For me plan B is to leave all the power train here, ship the car without it and so we then
have three more weeks to work on it.
Rodrigo's radical plan involves freighting the car to Texas without the engine. This
would give them 3 more weeks to fix the motor, before they reunite car and engine at the
We won't have any test but at least we can try to work with the fuel injection here,
we can try to do something. That's my plan B.
That's not my problem.
In Quebec, the Canadians replace their broken engine bolts and with some encouragement from
a heat gun, try to start up the engine again...
But engine reliability isn't the only element they must improve to beat their All Americas
record of 3168 miles per gallon.
Another key factor is how the car cuts through the air.
This year, they are modifying the aerodynamics to reduce drag by nearly 14%.
Having a really aerodynamic shell is our biggest advantage compared to our opponents. We are
way ahead compared to all the other teams in America.
In the United States, the students from James B. Dudley High are also working hard to be
ready for Texas. Three weeks to go and their vehicles are shaping up nicely...
Very good guys.
But like the other competitors, their cars must conform to a strict upper weight limit.
The Panthers are confident their Prototype is fine, but their Urban Concept car is much
heavier and to weigh it accurately, they head to a local salvage yard to use the giant scales.
OK, so somebody get in.
The maximum weight in this vehicle category, excluding driver, is 450 pounds.
So now we got to get off of this here right. And you said we got to be how much?
450. OK. 400 pounds on the money, ain't that something.
Ok so we're good.
The team make the most of their time in the scrap yard, by cashing in some of the unused
junk from their workshop.
Look at that, 4 dollars and 20 cents. Look at that. Thanks a lot, I do appreciate it.
On their shoestring budget, every dollar counts...
Down in Brazil, Co-Captain Rodrigo has a new plan to make up for lost time...
We told all the guys that the car is going to be shipped earlier than it was supposed
to be shipped. We're just like lying to them because they usually work better on a tight
The deceit works. Lead Engineer, Pimba has repaired the engine and for the last 2 weeks,
the team have been working all hours to get the car ready so that Christina can have a
test drive before it's shipped to Houston.
With the shipping deadline in 2 days, finally everything seems to be going right...
Except... the weather.
Unbelievable, unbelievable. We were supposed to test drive the car today. I guess not.
The whole of the ground floor of the Engineering Department is underwater, but thankfully the
car is OK.
If we were in this corridor the project would be lost totally.
For team driver Christina it means at least another day's wait to test drive the car.
She's beginning to think it's never going to happen...
I'll actually have to practice in an imaginary car.
In North Carolina, the Dudley Panthers are in good shape. They have two cars built and
ready for test-driving.
Sharing time behind the wheel, with Rochelle is new recruit, Muzdalifa.
The seat fits, the car fits, I can reach everything so it's good.
I'm kinda nervous.
Let's do it.
The girls driving styles could not be more different.
Slow it down, slow it down, slow it down, slow it down!
Whereas Muzdalifa is overly confident....
Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.
Rochelle has lost her nerve, following her crash the previous week.
C'mon, c'mon don't stop c'mon. She's losing her confidence again. We're going all the
way around, make you a big circle. OK, let's go.
To maximise fuel-efficiency, Eco-marathon rules state that drivers must average 15 miles
per hour over their 10-laps.
Teacher Ricky is looking for both girls to drive at a constant speed.
OK, that's what I want right there, she got it. Much better you didn't go as fast.
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon...c'mon there you go that's what I want.
For Rochelle in particular the extended seat time gives her a crucial boost.
Alright, alright, alright how does it feel? It feels good.
You ok, you ok, alright.
I felt good because I didn't do the mistake that I did the last time. I am really confident
about it because you know we've worked really hard for this project and I'm pretty sure
it's going to pay off.
I think it was very successful, we're leaps and bounds from where we were last year. The
vehicle looks pretty good, it drives pretty good and I think we're in good shape.
The kids from Dudley High have pulled it off.
After days of bad luck, the Brazilian's car is finally ready for its first test drive
among the flood debris...
With just a week until Houston, they must freight it tomorrow or it won't arrive in
time for the competition.
If something goes wrong I'll be devastated.
It's a big moment, Driver Christina isn't trusted with the car's maiden voyage, instead
Chief Engineer Pimba, is given the hot seat.
The engine runs perfectly...
But there's no power to the wheels.
The rear wheel broke and now we're going to have to take the car back, sit and have a
We are students. If we don't break anything we don't learn from it. So we're supposed
to break things.
This time the screws connecting the drive train to the rear wheel have snapped.
They have just 12 hours to fix the problem before the car is shipped.
We had two screws and both of them broke and now we are adding four more screws and replacing
the two screws that broke.
Pimba pulls off another miracle and they are set for a second attempt.
Christina is finally given the driving seat - her first and last chance to drive the car
before it's shipped tomorrow.
They told me to go slow first time just to test.
It was really, really great. I'm looking forward to doing it in Houston.
It's been an almighty struggle but they've done it.
With a week to go, the Canadians are fine-tuning their engine.
Everything has done its job and we put it together tonight, bench it, test it and it
worked. What a night.
We also succeeded in starting the engine every time so that's a good thing for us because
usually the reliability of the engine is the most important part.
I think we're in a good way to reach a win at Shell Eco Marathon.
With testing complete, the team pack up for the 1700 mile drive to Houston, Texas.
Houston, Texas and the Shell Eco-marathon 2013 is in town.
Over the next 4 days, 150 student teams will fight to have their eco-car crowned the most
fuel-efficient on the planet.
Competition takes place in two vehicle categories -- Prototype and Urban Concept - within each,
there are multiple fuel classes.
The teams race repeatedly to improve their car's fuel-economy.
Eventually, the car that completes 10 laps of Houston's 0.6-mile street circuit, using
the least amount of fuel, wins.
And the Canadians arrive looking confident.
The Brazilians still have work to do, if they are to challenge for the gasoline prototype
They never completed their electronic fuel injection system...
We just have to finish something, the steering system, then we have to do all the mapping
of the fuel injection. Er, with the fuel injection we can go further.
The fuel injection system could improve mileage by up to 30%, but if they don't get it to
work properly, the car will actually use more gas.
It means working through the night, again, to be ready in time.
It's something very big in our project. We spend a lot of money on it, put a lot of effort
into this, it's time to make it work.
The Dudley Panthers leave their arrival in Texas until the last minute.
And there's dramatic news from Prototype driver, Rochelle.
I was unable, you know, to get a license to be able to drive, and for safety reasons I
don't think it's a good idea to drive.
So, teammate Huon steps into the driving seat to replace her in the Prototype.
Both cars have arrived in tact, by road from Greensboro.
But once out of the box there are issues with the brakes on the Prototype.
We got little problems here. Not really bad, some little things we got to isolate.
It's vital both cars pass Technical Inspection, otherwise they will not be allowed to compete.
Technical Inspection is a series of safety checks that each vehicle must pass...
...and the Canadians are ready for it.
We have some fine tuning to do this evening but everything will be fine.
The team passes all the safety checks, but their biggest concern is the weigh in...
At this competition, the top Prototypes weigh an average of 120 pounds. The Canadians need
to be less than 100, if they hope to win and break records.
We put a lot of components that are a lot more reliable, but slightly heavier.
97 pounds. We're a little bit heavier than last year but this is not a problem.
At 97 pounds, the car weighs less than their driver. It's a great start... and as one of
the first teams to pass Technical Inspection, they can now test their car on the track.
For the Dudley Panthers it's a different story. Still worried about their prototype's brakes,
they head to Inspection.
I just really, really hope it's gonna pass because we worked really hard.
At first, everything goes well.
You passed it, you're good!
But then it's the brake test... The brakes must hold the car on the slope.
Alright, you're gonna have to squeeze man, both hands.
Yeah, it's not workin' ok.
It didn't pass, that's not good.
So, it's back to base to fix the brakes.
Outside on the track, the Canadians are ready for their practice run.
Their first aim is to break their own Eco-marathon record, set 4 years ago, of 2756 mpg.
Last year, they didn't even get over the start line.... will this year bring more heartbreak?
The engine starts first time.
That's cool. It works. Finally it works....
Team E3 from Brazil have been struggling with their new fuel injection system and the clock
Half an hour to pass the technical inspection otherwise we won't run tonight. We won't run
With time almost up, they decide to enter Technical Inspection without their hi-tech
fuel injection system.
We always leave things to do in the last minute.
Technical inspection closes at 5:30 and its like 5:30 right now.
They make it, but yet again there are problems.
The starter isn't working, I don't know why.
Chief Engineer Pimba, has just minutes to fix the starter motor. If he can't, they will
lose another day on the track.
Those are the stickers we have been waiting for. Technical inspection approved, Safety
Inspection approved. We are good to go!
On track, Canadian driver Audrey is going well.
Laval's run/kill strategy is working. She kills the engine... and allows the car to
coast so as not to burn valuable fuel.
But it's a tactic that has risks...
Starting and stopping the engine drains power...
... and this battery has run flat.
It should be a simple case of changing it.
We are putting the best battery that we have, so hopefully it goes well.
But even with a new battery, the car won't start...
I worry a little bit that I don't know what's happening with our engine right now.
For the moment I have no clue.
The team works long into the night.
Next morning, after only three hours sleep, the exhausted Canadian team gets in line for
the first run of the day.
It turns out the street circuit rattled the engine's electrics loose, but with everything
tightened up, the car is good to go.
We stayed up 'til four in the morning to get the car ready. It's going to pay off for sure.
Now on the track... Vehicle 77 from Laval University.
With 10 laps complete, Audrey pulls into the measuring station.
Everything went well but we have to have the numbers.
The amount of fuel used over the 10 laps is measured and miles per gallon computed.
Our best score two years ago used 8 millilitres of fuel. We just used 6 point something.
Seven, seven? Oh my God.
The Canadians break their own Eco-marathon record, with a new figure of 3000 miles per
Next, they're determined to smash their own All Americas record of 3168 miles per gallon.
Last year, the Brazilians achieved 969 miles per gallon to take 7th place.
This year they want a top 3 finish, but without their new fuel injection system that seems
We are hoping a good mileage, not the best but our first run so we can feel the car and
see how it's going.
The Brazilians are also using a run/kill strategy, but at this point, with all the problems they've
had, they're more concerned with getting 10 full laps under their belt.
Driver Christina crosses the start line... and already there is trouble.
The rear body panel is dangerously loose.
Despite the rear panel falling off, the engine seems to be running well.
But when she gets to the back straight, disaster strikes, yet again.
The run kill strategy has failed.
The engine has stalled leaving Christina dangerously exposed on a blind corner, but track officials
mustn't touch the car for 30 seconds to allow her time to re-start it.
On the track, other drivers are only seeing Christina at the last second and missing her
Christina is unhurt... but what about the car?
Some people have just told me that some other team hit us, that's not good at all. It might
have damaged the car in ways we can't repair.
As the car returns, without even completing a lap, their worst fears are realized.
The front left wheel has been sheared off during the collision.
The first lap, yah, that's really disappointing.
After months of hard work and sleepless nights, it looks like their competition is over.
After two days of working on their car, James B Dudley High have fixed the brakes and passed
Tec. Inspection. It's now down to new driver, Huon, to negotiate Houston's corners.
The guys really worked hard over the weekend. We were trying to get out here and all the
work they done back at school just for this moment.
In their two previous years, the team has never completed the 10 laps.
Our goal right now is actually to finish in 10 laps.
I'm nervous right about now. My baby's beginning to walk.
He's right on schedule. He's at 2 minutes and 29 seconds.
He's actually doing really well. He's runnin' a good time.
Lap 6 man, lap 6. I feel very confident.
But they're not there yet.
Lap 8 man.
Just two more laps to go and they will have made Dudley High history.
That's nine. She got one more to go.
Yes. Yes. First time ever finishing 10 laps and not
only did he finish it consistently, he finished it in style. That's what we wanted.
That's what I'm talking about.
Meanwhile the Panthers' Urban Concept car, is still struggling to pass Tech. Inspection.
Team E3 from Brazil haven't given up and think they've found a way to reattach the wheel
that was ripped off.
They're off shopping to buy new materials to repair the car.
They work through the night to rebuild both the steering system and weld the broken pieces
back together, improvising with the few tools they have at hand.
It's the last day of competition and finally, the Dudley Panthers' Urban Concept car is
ready to race.
But they are still having problems...
The mic is not working
We're trying to get the radio working before we get started but we need to position ourselves
With time running out they must get to the start line...
Get to the start line to go.
And so, their second car hits the track. Race rules state it must run 10 laps within
24 minutes and 45 seconds.
But without the radios working no one can tell Musdalifa her lap times.
She needs to speed up because she's at 14 minutes now she at 5 laps, we need to do 24
If she doesn't speed up -- THE DOOR!
With no radio communication the team can't tell her to speed up or that she must fix
They gonna stop her. They'll probably make her get off the track.
We try to speak so loud that she can understand that she has to pick up the door.
Muzdalifa is trying to drive and fix the car's door.
If she can't do both, she could be forced to retire.
She got it -- yes.
She got one more lap to finish the race so...
She gotta speed up.
With seconds to spare... She makes it.
They might not have won, but for the Dudley Panthers, it's a huge achievement.
It's the last run of Shell Eco Marathon Americas 2013 and against all the odds Team E3 from
Brazil have made it back onto the start line.
Everything is fine, it's almost a miracle. The guys did a great job. Most of the teams
would have given up but we didn't.
But yet again there are problems with the engine.
It keeps cutting out...
...and Christina limps across the start line.
The chances of her completing the required 10 laps look slim.
The Shell Eco Marathon will close at 2:15pm...
After three laps and the end of the session looming, the Brazilians pull the car off the
track in a desperate attempt to get the engine running consistently.
The prototype starting cue, for the third and final session, will close in fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile, the Canadians are back out on the track again, aiming to beat their own record.
I hope we are going to get a good run. Let's go.
I think it will be our best score. If we can lower fuel consumption a few percent. I'm
pretty sure we can do it.
Time is running out for the Brazilians as Pimba struggles to resolve the engine problem.
The prototype cue is now closed. All teams that are on the track ... on the track
Team E3 has failed to record a single result in 2013.
We are very unlucky, so many problems, so many issues we weren't expecting.
It's just bad.
Next year, there is Shell Eco Marathon 2014 waiting for us.
It's a very different story for the Canadians. Audrey is setting consistent lap times.
She's right on time, so that's good.
She crosses the line.
For me I have a good feeling. We'll wait for the result.
In 2009, at a competition in Michigan, they used 6.9 millilitres of fuel to set their
All Americas record, of 3168 miles per gallon.
Gotta be better than 6.9, right? 5.8 on the nose.
Universit Laval has smashed the All Americas gasoline prototype record, with an incredible
3,600 miles per gallon.
In this car, less than half a gallon of gas, would take you from Houston, Texas across
the American continent to Los Angeles, California.
After last year's disappointment, Team Alerion Supermileage from Quebec, Canada are crowned
Shell Eco Marathon Americas Gasoline Prototype Champions 2013.