The Supermileage team built and tested a car capable of achieving 622 miles per gallon last year, placing them fifth in a field of 19 competitors. This year, they hope to double their mileage.
With the 2019 SAE Supermileage Competition in June, the mostly-new team continues preparations for their trip to Michigan by creating BYU-Idaho’s best-performing Supermileage car yet.
The team hopes to accomplish this, not by beating the other teams, but by surpassing their own benchmarks.
“We don’t worry about the other teams,” said Ricton Larsen, president of the Supermileage engine tuning sub-team and a junior studying automotive engineering technology. “We worry about what we’re able to accomplish. That’s really the focus of why the Supermileage competition was created in the first place — to give you a hands-on learning experience.”
To reach their 1,200 mpg goal, the team split themselves in half. One sub-team works on decreasing friction on the chassis while the other works on improving engine power and efficiency.
“They have different focuses,” Larsen said. “We do the engine tuning and powertrain, while the other team deals with rolling resistance and aerodynamics.”
This process of priming the car for competition has already taken months, and many more months lie ahead before the car will be ready. During fall 2018, the engine tuning sub-team was already hard at work building their own dynamometer —“dyno” for short — to test the car’s horsepower and torque outputs.
Although the team is looking for efficiency, Robert Bridges, a member of the engine tuning sub-team and a senior studying automotive engineering technology, said these power and torque ratings are important.
Bridges said the engine only runs for short bursts to get the car up to speed. He said once the car reaches about 25 mph, the engine shuts off and the car coasts around an oval track until it drops back down to 5 mph, and then the driver turns the engine back on.
Larsen said the sooner the car is able to reach 25 mph, the sooner the engine can be turned off, possibly conserving more fuel.
“That’s how we get our efficiency,” Bridges said. “It’s kind of a different thought process. It’s not exactly normal.”
Another aspect of the car that isn’t exactly normal is the chassis. In order to drive the car, Bridges said the driver must lie down with the steering wheel between his legs. He can then peer through a small windshield by looking between his knees.
While not the most comfortable position, the goal isn’t to make a comfortable car.
Larsen said making a car with fuel efficiency as the top priority will be a good learning experience and a challenge for the many new members on the team.
“We had only a few people return this semester who were on the team last year,” Larsen said. “Almost everyone else was new.”
Despite this, Larsen said he is not too concerned about the team’s newness. In fact, he is one of the new team members himself.
“I changed my major last semester, so this is my second semester in the automotive engineering technology program,” Larsen said. “I only started doing Supermileage last semester when I first came into the automotive program.”
For those students who want to become involved in the future, Larsen said they should go for it. He said the experience has been invaluable for him.
“Every day you’re learning more than what you could learn in a classroom,” Larsen said. “You don’t need to know the most or be the best student or best engineer to contribute to the team. Being on the team makes you a better engineer.”