Students achieve 300MPG equivalent from MINDDRIVE on Vimeo.

This project is more than just a car, it is a bond between participants
by Tom Strongman, Kansas City Star, Aug. 28

FORT STOCKTON, Texas — Who knew, back in January when seven students from Kansas City’s DeLaSalle Charter High School and 11 mentors huddled around the hulk of a well-used Indy car in a freezing-cold shop, that eight months later their project would be the talk of the country.

I was part of the group that hardly knew one another last winter. Over the next eight months this group became a band of brothers that gathered every Saturday morning to work on converting the single-seat Lola to battery power and designing a full-coverage body. The car they created is now getting national and international publicity for its efficiency. Who knew?

Individual mentors taught classroom sessions on aerodynamics, physics and basic automotive terminology, and it was early spring before the group actively started building the car. The bond between students and mentors grew quickly once they began working on the car together. The students were not mechanics, and there was much to be learned. Adults took the lead.

We shaped a body using a thin wire framework covered by a transparent skin made from a heat-shrinkable material, a 3M product that is used to cover windows. Foam was layered over the skin to make a mold, and the mold was used to form a fiberglass body. The resulting body weighed nearly 200 pounds, so it was discarded, and we returned to the wire frame and transparent skin. It weighed about 40 pounds. A lesson: if at first you don’t succeed, try something else, but keep moving forward.

Bridgestone did research to determine which of its tires had the lowest rolling resistance. Marty Yurjevich and Jon Stuckey visited the school, supplied tires and wheels for the car and displayed the non-running car in their garage during the Indy 500.

Once the car was back in Kansas City, the drive system was completed and 21 lithium-ion batteries, rated at 180 amp hours, were installed. A donor supplied the batteries.

In early August, the car was hauled to Bridgestone’s test track in west Texas. Kansas City students, Duley, Ramirez and Knighten flew to Texas along with local go-kart racer Natalie Fenaroli from Raymore, Mo. Ramirez and Fenaroli shared the driving. Six mentors were there as well.

Fenaroli and her dad, Matt, became part of the project during the summer months. She was selected as one of the testers because she has a competition license even though she is only 14. Ramirez was the only DeLaSalle student on the trip that had a driver’s license.

On Aug. 10, the racer turned its first lap of the track. The car was geared to have a top speed of 42 miles an hour. The quest was to measure how far the car could travel per kilowatt-hour of energy used. The result exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Bridgestone engineers helped record data. Converting miles per kilowatt-hour into a miles-per-gallon equivalent is one way of measuring efficiency. The DeLaSalle car achieved the equivalent of nearly 300 miles per gallon. News of the car’s efficiency exploded around the Internet. A lesson: push through setbacks and you can achieve more than you imagined.

This improbable band of brothers had succeeded, and the fact that the car’s skin had no color was a perfect metaphor. We were family, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, and the friendships that we built would have a lasting impact on each of us.