From the Kansas City Star automotive section, May 1:

webgroup.jpgDeLaSalle students undertake the design of an electric car

By Tom Strongman

The task seemed insurmountable: In five months, design a full body for a single-seat 2000 Lola Indy car, fit an electric motor and to have it travel 60 miles on one battery charge.

That challenge, posed by Steve Rees, was taken by seven students from the DeLaSalle Education Center and 11 volunteer mentors , of which I am one. The mentors are engineers, journalists, architects, automotive technicians and fabricators.

DeLaSalle is a private, tuition-free (soon to become charter) alternative school. This is the third year that a small group of students, under the tutelage of Rees, has designed a car. Rees is an architect, automobile enthusiast and a former racer of classic sports cars.

“We want to give the kids a reason to learn,” Rees said.webstudents.jpg

The students in the photo are, from left: Chan Brown, Andrew Deckard, John Shaw, Kelvin Duley, Kevon Mebane, Mario Ramirez and Zack Knighten.

Since January, the group has met every Saturday morning in shop space donated by Aaron Holmstrom of Bob Hindson Racing. The group studied the basics of aerodynamics and electric power before beginning the creation of an efficient and stylish body.

The solution for the body was creative and unique. A salvaged aircraft canopy was placed over the chassis tub. After the students established a basic shape with a wire, heat-shrinkable plastic was stretched placed over the perimeter frame. A heat gun was used to tighten the plastic, and as it did, the body began to assume a shape almost as if it knew what it wanted to be. The result was tight, curvaceous and sleek.

Urethane foam was then layered over the translucent skin to make a mold for the body.

Fiberglass was applied to the inside of the mold to create a one-piece body that is just now being readied for paint.

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations became involved because it is interested in energy-efficient vehicles, and because its Firestone brand is the official tire of the IZOD IndyCar series. Engineers did theoretical and lab testing to determine which tires would be most efficient. Firestone donated tires and a set of wheels. Firestone will host the students this weekend at the IndyCar race at the Kansas Speedway and then display the car for three weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When the car comes back from the Speedway after the Indy 500, the drivetrain will be completed. The finished car will be tested this summer at the tire company’s test track in Texas.

Rees said that although the goal of the project was to build an electric car, the educational process is most important so students can learn the vocabulary of success. The result has been that students and mentors have bridged the gap of age and background to work together on creative solutions to complex problems. Most of all, they have created friendships that will live on long after the car is gathering dust in the corner of a garage.

For more information or to follow the project, go to