In the Hoosier state, race cars usually are synonymous with IndyCars traveling up to 235 miles per hour around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But talk to someone from the Mater Dei High School Supermileage Team, and they’ll tell you speed is not the name of the game. Instead, it’s about which team can build and drive their car to be the most fuel-efficient.
“You go as slow as possible because you don’t want to burn much fuel,” says team captain Grant Weiss, Mater Dei class of 2017.
Since its inception in 2008, Mater Dei’s Supermileage Team consistently has taken top honors among other teams in the nation. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that the students proved to be among the best in the world.
Weiss and his Mater Dei teammates competed against 22 other teams from U.S., Asia, and Europe to place fourth in the first-ever Shell Eco-Marathon Drivers World
Championship (DWC). The competition was held July 3, 2016, at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London.
Mater Dei’s team placed first at the Americas Regional Championship in Detroit on April 26, 2016. The top six teams earned a chance to compete at the DWC in London.
In Detroit, Mater Dei’s team “raced” solely for fuel efficiency. Each car had to complete 10 laps at an average of at least 15 miles per hour. Mater Dei’s car proved to be the most efficient, achieving 793 miles per gallon.
But in London, the competition combined efficiency with speed. Each car went through a benchmarking heat; calculations determined how much fuel should be given to level the playing field. The team to cross the finish line first was declared the winner.
“You have to manage your fuel, but the race also allows you to go more than 15 miles an hour. That way it allows you to keep the fuel-efficiency aspect, and not just a speed race,” says Weiss, who drove in London. “It was fun. I’ve been wanting to go fast for a while.”
Although Mater Dei placed first in its heat, the team placed fourth in the championship race.
“Fourth in the world isn’t too bad,” says Mitchell Heim, who communicated with Weiss during the race. “I tried to be his eyes outside the cockpit. I wanted him to stay focused and let him worry about doing what he needed to do.”
Although winning was high on the team’s list of priorities, it also was important to build relationships with other teams. Whether it’s sharing a tip or a spare car part, the Mater Dei team helped other schools through camaraderie.
“We don’t keep secrets,” says Weiss. “We’re always trying to advance the competition as a whole.”
Mater Dei’s car is classified as Urban Concept — an internal combustion vehicle that runs off gas. The cars are known for their carbon fiber shells and aluminum frames, which make them aerodynamic and lightweight. The team spends several months out of the year building, modifying, and driving the car.
“Most of the stuff we do can’t be done alone,” says Heim. “It takes a whole team of people to do it.”
As team captain, Weiss is responsible for all crew aspects, including member education and car improvements. Team members do not specialize in a single aspect, but instead are jacks-of-all-trades. Weiss says seniors often provide leadership to timid newcomers, encouraging them to be proactive.
“What I told them is to jump in, ask someone if they need help, engage yourself,” he says.
Bob Neisen has been involved with Mater Dei’s Supermileage Team for 16 years, first as a parent and now as an advisor. He says it is great to see so many students use their own time to work on a project.
=“We’re not all geniuses. We are just optimizing the car for the set of rules we have,” says Neisen, who has seen kids blossom in the program. “We are introducing them to science, engineering, how to sync with others, and problem-solve.”
The team has its sights on winning this year’s grand final on May 28 in London.
“I think we can get first in Detroit and possibly head back to London again,” says Heim. “I’m hoping we can win the whole thing now we know what to expect, and have a better idea of what to prepare for.”
For more information about Mater Dei’s Supermileage Team, visit materdeisupermileage.com.