VILLA GROVE – Although they don't yet know the outcome of their race for fuel efficiency, Marcus Harris' Villa Grove High School students think their car's a winner.
"The vehicle is awesome," said junior Andrew Currie. "It's our first time doing this so it's hard to tell how competitive we'll be, so we're anxious to see what happens. It would be nice to win."
Harris and seven of the eight students who built the vehicle took it to Wisconsin on Friday for the annual High Mileage Vehicle Challenge at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. Harris said this is the first year he's taken a team to the contest for high school and middle school students.
The goal, he said, is to design a vehicle to run on a lawn mower engine that's so aerodynamic it uses very little fuel.
"There are three classes, stock, modified and hybrid," Harris said. "We're running in stock. "
He learned about the contest at a conference and liked the idea for his industrial arts students.
"It involved a lot of different skills – physics, welding, a little bit of everything I teach," Harris said. "We started with models, then drew the car on AutoCAD. We made small models, then fabricated the shell. We used mostly bicycle parts, rims and disc brakes and made a full shell."
The rules require entries to have a roll bar and the driver must be able to get out of the vehicle in less than seven seconds. The students had to design kill switches and rear view mirrors, and a fire extinguisher also is required.
When they arrived at Wisconsin on Friday, they took their car through safety checks. Today, they're running laps, 15 in all.
"A couple of things are a little sketchy," Harris said before the safety check. "The roll cage has to be 6 inches above the driver's head, and ours is right there and the car can be a maximum of 9 feet, and ours is right at 9 feet."
"We feel pretty confident we'll pass them all," said Ben Elston, a senior who will drive today. "If something's wrong, we'll fix it. We could build another one if we really want to, but we really don't."
The Villa Grove vehicle and others entered in the contest are so fuel efficient, judges determine the winners by weighing the fuel before and after a run.
"Our vehicle is very aerodynamic," Harris said. "We paid a lot of attention to weight reduction. We picked the smallest person to drive."
"I learned a lot," said Stephen Akers, a junior. "And we had a good time doing it. I now know something about gearing ratios."
Hunter Ezell, a sophomore, was the fabricator and engine procurer. Adam Hovis, a senior, did a little bit of everything.
"I think the big thing we all learned was problem solving," Hovis said.
Andrew Deem, a junior, cut parts and worked on gearing, and Sam Smith, a senior, also worked on the frame. Josh Martin, a senior, also worked on the car but couldn't go to Wisconsin.
Harris said he feels good about the end result and prospects for winning even though the team will be competing against Chicago area high schools with bigger classes and bigger budgets. The Villa Grove car cost about $1,000.
Harris is very proud of another one of the team's accomplishments, a proposal team members put together detailing every aspect of the car construction.
"It's 35 pages with pictures and drawings about how they went through the process, the gearing, the driveline, the shell," he said. "I think the judges will find that technical paper pretty impressive. They didn't throw this car together. It was engineered and they were pretty close to the plan."