More than 3,000 students from 27 countries compete this weekend in what is without a doubt the slowest racing competition in the world. Speed is nothing to brag about in the 30th edition of the Shell Eco-marathon Europe: It’s all about fuel efficiency.

Slowly but surely, 198 student teams drive their self-built cars over a 1-mile (1.6 km) street circuit in Rotterdam, averaging 15.6 miles an hour (25 km/h). With speed out of the equation, the only way to win the competition is by efficient design, innovative technology, and a sophisticated driving strategy.

Last year’s winner, Team Microjoule from the technical school La Joliverie in Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire, France, completed the mandatory ten laps with a calculated fuel consumption of 2,980 kilometers on a single liter of gasoline (7,000 miles per gallon). Already on the first day of this year’s competition, the team broke the magical 3,000 kilometer barrier with a score of 3,191 kilometers (1,982 miles)—the circuit record.

“We spent all year improving our car. New materials in the tires and a better steering system should make it even more fuel efficient,” Guillome Hinsworth said while waiting in line at the start of the circuit for what would become a record breaking run. “And the weather is much better this year. It’s dry and warm, so there’s a lot less rolling resistance compared to last year.”

The marathon features futuristic looking cars in two categories: the sleek aerodynamic cigars-on-wheels of the prototype class, and the four-wheeled urban concept cars that resemble something you could see people driving on the road one day. Fuels range from conventional—gasoline, diesel, ethanol and the synthetic diesel GTL—to hydrogen and full electric.

Team HAN Hydromotive got a street license for its car and took it on a road tour before the race. (Photograph courtesy Shell)

Team HAN Hydromotive got a street license for its car and took it on a road tour before the race. (Photograph courtesy Shell)

For some teams, creating Europe’s most fuel efficient car simply isn’t enough of a challenge. They want to take their car out on the streets to show the world what mobility will look like in the future.

The Dutch teams HAN Hydromotive and TU/Ecomotive applied for a road license from the department of motor vehicles RDW. They had to make some alterations to the car to improve safety, but got their plates and drove all the way to the start line of the competition in Rotterdam from their home towns of Arnhem and Eindhoven.

Their cars catch the eye of many visitors of the Eco-marathon, adults and children alike. At first 12-year-old Ennes Yildiz didn’t know what to make of the weird looking vehicles. After hearing the story behind the road trip to Rotterdam he concludes: The race is a good idea, because this way you don’t waste gasoline. That’s much better for the environment and it costs less money.”

 

*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains autonomy over content.