At a research facility in Illinois back in 1939, a bet between Shell scientists began a challenge that has grown over the decades to become the Shell Eco-Marathon. The bet was simple, who could drive their own car the furthest on the least amount of petrol (gasoline).
By 1985, Shell had launched the Shell Eco-Marathon in Europe and over time it has grown to different locations including Asia and America. I attended my first Eco-Marathon in 2014 and it was a terrific event. The great thing about working with Shell is that they really do bring us great information and opportunities to unpack the world of motorsport and beyond and we’re grateful for their kind consideration.
The Eco-Marathon now moves to Detroit for 2015 and to help launch the event, Shell was present at this years NAIAS Detroit Auto Show with their Innovation Track and Media car as well as Urbie, the 2014 entry from Cedarville University.
That’s not the entire list as Indycar champion Will Power, NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowsk all showed up to drive the concept cars as well as meet the press to explain Penske’s strong support of the program.
The Shell media car is a small concept car designed to showcase the concepts behind the Eco-Marathon with lift-and-coast and a small engine sipping petrol. The great fun came when Joey Logano took the media members for a ride in the car and by the time that was over he’d agreed to stay much longer and give each student of the Cedarville University team a ride—and what a ride! Joey is an great guy and took time to really chat and discuss the merits and innovation behind the Eco-Marathon.
The small car, as we all discovered, was great at drifting and becoming a massively fun car to watch in the hands of a professional. Joey tossed that little thing into corners, carried tremendous speed into the corner, pitched the rear-end out and drifted around that track much faster than the car was intentionally meant for. Good news is, Shell’s car was perfectly fine and durable for the task and Joey gave everyone a major thrill watching him put smiles of faces that wouldn’t soon wipe off.
Shell’s move to Detroit for the Eco-Marathon has been met with lots of excitement and the company even re-paved the roads where the track will be downtown. The challenge is all about teamwork, collaboration and innovation and when I attended, I discovered it was much, much more than that…it literally changes lives. You can read how here.
This year will represent the 30th anniversary of the Eco-Marathon and is yet another program within Shell that seeks and invests in alternative energy and innovation. Back in 1939, the winner achieved 49.72 mpg. Today, it is over 2,800 mpg. That’s innovative thinking from high school and college students. I wasn’t doing that when I was 18-years-old!
The Car Show
The FIA WEC series held a press conference discussing their 2015 season. I had a chance to chat with WEC CEO, Gérard Neveu, about the series as well as Andrew Craig and both are very excited about the coming year. They seemed to be excited about a looming announcement that they could not share details on so keep your eyes peeled for that one. Ferrari in LMP1? Wouldn’t that be great?
If there was a bright spot of the entire show this year, it had to be Ford’s new GT and while stunning in every respect, I’ll be even more excited about it if they drag it to the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take on the Ferrari 458’s, Corvettes and Porsches as well as Aston Martins. Truly a stunning car that paired well with their new trucks and the “blue” theme which must be the color of the year. Used to be the saying, re-sale blue which was a negative but now it’s all the rage.
Mercedes had their F1 car there and the F1 Manufacturer’s trophy with the engravings and placards of all the previous logos from Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull etc. Very impressive. It was sitting next to the W05 chassis. Mercedes made a real presence with their F1 achievement (as they should) and highlighted the hybrid technology they use in road cars. One get’s a very distinct impression that the marque swings a big stick in F1 and much of the move to V6 turbos could be traced to this famous German company.
Honda had their 1965 vintage F1 car, the #11 Ritchie Ginther, and it was beautiful to say the least. I did ask them how the FIA meeting went on that Monday regarding the engine development issue and they were tight-lipped as one would expect.
The Toyota folks did have their LMP1 car there and so did Porsche. Interesting to cover the fine details and contours of the cars as well as the aerodynamics up close. Toyota even had a cut-away of their NASCAR chassis which was very cool. They also revealed their new Tacoma which was a nice truck.
I couldn’t miss the trademark plaid shirt of Rutledge Wood. He was there to chat with Joey with a throng on NBC folks doing the hard work and heavy lifting of cameras and equipment.
Michelin had a full Formula E chassis at their booth but sadly Nick Heidfeld was not there to talk us through it.
F1’s road relevancy
I attended the Detroit auto show with a purpose to get a feel for how much technology and innovation was truly taking place behind the scenes and juxtapose that with F1’s turbo electric V6 which, unless I am mistaken, is the only one I know of.
There is no doubt in my mind that F1 has a road relevancy case to make but just how much? Listening to fans, you’d be forgiven for thinking that road cars owe much of their technology innovation to F1 and while some incredibly innovative elements have trickled down, the road car folks know what they’re doing!
The technology inside the cars is certainly an important element these days as 63% of respondents to a Deloitte survey showed that they really want more technology in their cars to connect to with their mobile devices. Outside the car is also an amazing and fertile ground for innovative thinking.
Lexus released a stunning new RC F GT3 race car and Cadillac had their new CTS-V with 640-horsepower. The Acura NSX was revealed and it too was chalked with serious gray matter and innovative thinking. I did enjoy the new Nissan Titan and Toyota’s Tacoma as well as the Ford GT and NSX.
The overwhelming majority of the new cars were Fuel-driven while 10-15% of them were hybrids. A majority of the cars were all turbocharged and I enjoyed Autoblog’s article that broke the show down by the numbers:
- Average horsepower: 331
- Average pound-feet of torque: 349
- Average liters of displacement: 3.29
- Average number of cylinders: 5.9
- Average number of transmission gears: 7.1
- Average 0-60 MPH time in seconds: 5.6
- Engine aspiration: 68% turbocharged, 24% naturally aspirated, 5% supercharged, 3% bi-charged
- Driven wheels: 63% all-wheel drive available, 43% rear-wheel drive available, 18% front-wheel drive available, 25% options available
- Fuel: 72% gasoline, 14% hybrid, 7% diesel, 7% electric
Speaking of numbers, there were 55 vehicles introduced and over 5,000 journalists there to cover it. Apparently, those 5,025 journalists consumed 4,400 bottles of water and 800 bottles of fruit juice while eating 4,000 sandwiches and. 1,200 bags of snacks. As for Red Bull consumed? Couldn’t find one anywhere!
If you look at the petrol versus hybrid and the liter of displacement, it’s not very close to F1’s current specification although turbo systems seems to be all the rage these days and that fits nicely with the road car industry. While I didn’t see any other hybrid turbos, Mercedes made the most of their F1 investment at the show.
In particular, perhaps harvesting waste or exhaust energy might be a knock-on technology that very well could make it to the road car industry. Some might argue that F1 has done more to ban technology the road car industry finds very prescient to its future like anti-lock braking, traction control, active suspension, FRIC, mass dampers, flexi-wings and all-wheel drive just to name a few.
Regardless, F1 is a car and does share commonality but touring the Mercedes booth in Detroit, the hybrid engines were cross-sectioned and placed for viewing and one can’t help but wonder how much it inspired their championship-winning F1 car or was it the other way round?
After attending the show, seeing the innovation from the students in the Shell Eco-Marathon and just how brilliant the road car engineers are, I suspect F1 might have to up their game to keep up with these folks.