Quebec’s Université Laval achieved a mind-boggling 3,587 miles on a single gallon of gasoline to win the 7th annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 competition this weekend. It was the highest mileage ever achieved for both Université Laval and the Americas challenge.

This was the fourth year in the last five that the Canadian team has dominated the competition, which attracted more than 1,000 students from across the Americas. Last year’s winner, a team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., placed second with a best run of 2,308 mpg on the track through the streets of downtown Houston.

Some 131 vehicles competed this year in various categories for the $2,000 first prize, with the Université Laval achievement – nearly 1,300 mpg better than Mater Dei’s showing last year – astounding the other competitors and spectators who watched the weekend’s events. On Saturday, in an earlier run, the Laval vehicle achieved 3,001 mpg, a record at the time. Teams competed from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. 

‘Truly Remarkable’ MPG Achievement

“What the Laval team accomplished is truly remarkable and it underscores the long way our own cars and trucks can go to improve their fuel efficiency,” said Lorraine Mitchelmore, Shell Canada President, “Each year, dedicated high school and university student teams astonish us with the advances they make in achieving unheard-of fuel-efficiency improvements.”

In 2012, the Laval team shocked participants, but that time it was for not even completing a qualifying run.

“We took our frustrations from last year’s event and used them as motivation to return better than ever,” said Philippe Bouchard, Laval team manager. “We trained our new team members and spent twice as much time fine-tuning the engine and building the car.”

Global Record of 8,914 mpg Still Stands

While astounding, Université Laval’s winning mark – achieved in the Prototype category for internal combustion vehicles – didn’t break the all-time record of 8,914 mpg by a French team in 2003. Besides the Americas competition in Houston, the Shell Eco-marathon, also occurs annually in Europe and Asia and involves thousands of students from dozens of countries. 

Mater Dei High took top honors again this year in the UrbanConcept category, with a winning mark of 849 miles per gallon of gasoline. Second place went to the Louisiana Tech University team whose vehicle achieved 335 miles per gallon of diesel fuel.  

For both vehicle categories, teams can use either internal combustion or e-mobility energy sources, which include diesel, gasoline, ethanol, FAME, solar, hydrogen and battery electric technologies.

Minnesota Team Again Goes Hollywood

For the past three years, the Wolves on Wheels team from St. Paul’s School of Covington, Minn., have sported a movie theme for the challenge. Last year, the team turned heads with its secret agent Angus MacGyver-inspired UrbanConcept vehicle “Mac Daddy.” This year, true to form, the team modeled two of their vehicles after the movies “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Back to the Future.”

“Our team really wanted to show that you can have a fuel-efficient car that also looks cool,” said team captain Marcus Garner. The body of the team’s vehicle is a close approximation of the famous stainless steel DeLorean used in the “Back to the Future” movies, complete with blue lights, silver paint and gull-wing doors. The doors proved a challenge but, explains Garner, “There was no way we weren’t going to make the doors work – they make the car!”

Competitors Pull Together in Misfortune

To say the least, it proved a rough journey to Houston for the team from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. Air transport restrictions required the team to ship its car without an engine.

Enter the team from Schurr High School of Montebello, Calif. As Shell Eco-marathon Americas veterans, team advisor Armando Hernandez and his students offered the Guatemalans a spare engine and transportation around Houston to purchase additional parts.

“We know how much effort goes into the vehicles and competition, so it would be sad to see others make it all this way and not be able to participate,” said Leonardo Lopez, a Schurr team member. For their part, members of the Guatemalan team were overwhelmed by the hospitality, generosity and camaraderie, said Andrés Hernández, its team manager, adding: “It feels like home.”

Teams Face Tough Tech Inspection

The George R. Brown Convention Center bustled with activity over the weekend as teams worked tirelessly on their vehicles to pass through the comprehensive technical inspection. Top engineers from Michelin worked with the student teams leading up to the starting line to ensure the vehicles they built met every safety requirement and were as road-ready as possible. 

Inspections can reveal bigger design flaws requiring changes to be made on-the-fly. The electric vehicle team from Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn., traveled more than 1,000 miles to Houston only to find out that they were four inches (10 centimeters) too long.

“Our car was too long. We had to choose between going on the track as noncompeting participants or making a modification, and we wanted to compete in our first trip here,” said one team member. The team used a hacksaw to bob its car’s tail down to competition requirements. “We should have measured it before we came!” joked another team member.

New All-Girls Team Makes its Mark

Since 2010, the ShopGirls team of Granite Falls High School in Washington has been the only all-girl team to compete. They had company this year when the Doves Under the Hood team from St. Scholastica Academy of Covington, La., competed. The veterans welcomed the newcomers with greetings and gifts before the event.

“We were excited to learn about the other all-girl team,” said Dansil Green, ShopGirls’ team manager and driver. The teams shared a common goal: to show that an all-girl team can be serious competitors in a technology-driven event largely dominated by males.

More than 4,000 Houstonians came out to see Shell Eco-marathon Americas and experience the Shell Energy Lab. It was an interactive exhibit that demonstrated how the work of Shell Eco-marathon Americas participants is just one of many inspiring efforts using innovation to solve energy challenges and keep the world moving in cleaner, more energy efficient ways.

For a behind the scenes look, check out the Road to Houston video series.

For more information on all 2013 events across the globe, including the complete Americas 2013 results, please visit the Shell Eco-marathon website at

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