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Elkhart County students head to Supermileage competition

Students from three Elkhart County schools are going to national competitions this weekend with cars they built during the school year.

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 8:31 p.m.

These high school students aren't just looking for cars with good mileage. They need Super Mileage.

Three teams of students from Goshen, Fairfield and Northridge built high-efficiency cars over the past school year, and this weekend they will be competing at competitions in two states.

Their goal is to get as many miles per gallon as possible with the tiny cars.

Getting on these teams at local schools is competitive — students need to prove themselves by taking other engineering classes first, their teachers said. 

But once they make it into Supermileage, students discover that this class is unlike anything they've done at school. 

"This class is completely student led," said Kyle Hembree, engineering technology department chair at Northridge. "I tell them, 'Look, here’s the goal, here’s the project, you have till April to get it done.' I'm there, I throw out ideas, I play devil's advocate. But I tell them, 'It's your call.'"

Hembree is taking nine students and one high-efficiency car to the Indiana Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Alliance Super Mileage Challenge at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. 

The contest is Monday, April 28, but the Northridge group will travel Sunday.

Goshen's Supermileage group left Wednesday for the Shell Eco-Marathon in Houston, Texas, an international event that includes high schools, colleges and universities from around the world.  The contest starts Friday and runs through Sunday.

The group is taking two cars, one with a diesel engine and one with a gasoline engine. 

Student Derick Hostetler said the group ran practice laps with the cars last week and students are excited about what the cars can do.

"We will undoubtedly have some issues in Houston but hopefully because of all of our testing we will be able to quickly fix any bugs and achieve our goal of 1,000 mpg for both cars," he said. 

The Goshen group hopes to place in the top three in its class. 

Fairfield's group is splitting up. Half of the students will take a car to Houston and the other half will take a car to the Indianapolis contest. 

Teacher Jim Jones said the Supermileage contests usually aren't the same weekend.

"When the dates came out, we were kind of debating whether to go to one or the other, but there were kids that wanted to go to both," he said. 

Fairfield's Houston group left Wednesday and the Indianapolis group will travel Sunday. 

The goal for both Fairfield cars is to get to 500 miles per gallon, Jones said. Both have to take 10 laps, but in Houston the route is an urban setting with potholes and other typical motorist problems.

Jones pointed out that while the cars are pretty fast, the goal isn't speed. 

"We want mileage, not speed," he said. "Our best mileage last year was 209."

All three schools are excited that the Shell Eco-Marathon will be in Detroit next year — a closer drive means less expenses the students have to raise by asking for donations. 

The cars cost about $5,000 each to build, though some teams spend much more, Hembree said.

Building the cars takes hours of dedication and hard work from students, their teachers said, and students have put in that work this year.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks




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