11 PH teams vie for 10th Shell Eco-marathon Asia podium

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SEPANG, Malaysia – A total of 11 teams from the Philippines are braving the searing heat here to compete in the 10th Shell Eco-marathon (SEM) Asia. Held from April 29 to May 2 at the Sepang International Circuit, this year’s edition marks a return to the hallowed former F1 racing track which had hosted the very first Asian staging of the competition back in 2010.

SEM is “a unique global program for science, technology, engineering, and math students to design and build ultra-energy-efficient cars, and then take them out on the track in competition,” according to the SEM website.

The competition here features over 100 student teams from some 18 countries in the Asia Pacific and Middle East. The Philippines fields the following: DLSU-D Stallions Hiraya (De La Salle University-Dasmariñas), DLSU Eco Car Team-Battery Electric (De La Salle University), DLSU Eco Team-ICE (De La Salle University), NU Prime Sprinter (National University), PLM Agsikapin (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila), PUP-Hygears (Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Manila), ATLAS Valor (University of Perpetual Help System-Dalta), UST Eco-Tigers I (University of Santo Tomas), Dagisik UP (University of the Philippines-Diliman), Alamat (University of the Philippines-Diliman), and Team UMindanao Wildcats (University of Mindanao).

Cramped but ready to roll | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila
Alamat UP | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila

SEM Asia 2019 is highlighted by two key competitions: the Mileage Challenge (won by teams whose cars travel the longest on the least amount of fuel, and the qualifier for the Drivers’ World Championship, “a race to see who crosses the finish line first without running out of their limited allocation of energy.” Leading teams also qualify for the 2019 Drivers’ World Championship to be held in London this July.

University or high school students compete in two main categories: Prototype (featuring more futuristic vehicles) and UrbanConcept (bearing a practical form and more similar to contemporary cars). The vehicles must pass a battery of thorough technical inspections before allowed on-track testing (and they must run a minimum of 30 minutes); and may be powered by an internal combustion engine (using gasoline diesel, or ethanol), a battery, or hydrogen fuel cell.

DLSU Eco Car Team-Battery Electric | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila
DLSU-D Stallions Hiraya | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, SEM general Norman Koch declared that “creativity trumps budget.” He shared, “Many teams have really, really good ideas. Even if they don’t have a lot of money they still win. We’ve had a few teams who boast their wealth, especially in Europe. They spend US$50,000 to US$60,000 for a car, and they still don’t win. That is really heartening for me to see.”

Koch cited a team from the US which had cobbled together a vehicle “purely from scrap walking sticks and Zimmer frames (or walkers). They wanted to a scrapyard and harvested them. That’s a brilliant idea, because that’s tubular aluminum, and it doesn’t get lighter than that other than carbon fiber, and it’s strong and a great design material.”

Inspection time at the paddock | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila
PLM Agsikapin | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila

He relates, “Anyone can spend US$100,000 on a handmade carbon-fiber chassis, but not win because they don’t understand what they’re doing. Students who start buying into certain services because they have the budget don’t necessarily understand. When something goes wrong on the track, especially with electronics, they don’t have the solution.”

UMindanao Wildcats | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila
ATLAS Valor | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila

What’s at stake?

Aside from bragging rights, category team winners will get US$3,000 for their schools. An additional four off-track awards (also receiving US$3,000 each) go for those who exhibit excellence in areas from “communication to vehicle deign,” and to participants with the “greatest team spirit and perseverance in the face of adversity.” The total kitty totals US$50,000.

“The successful team on the track is not the one that can build the best car, but the one that can run the best car. That is a huge difference,” averred Koch.

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