Racing on a Gallon of Gas

The streets of downtown Houston will serve as a racetrack this weekend for the world’s most energy-efficient cars. The Shell Eco-Marathon challenges students to see how far they can get a vehicle to go on one gallon of gas. Laurie Johnson reports.


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The streets around Discovery Green Park serve as an extremely quiet racetrack for the Shell Eco-Marathon.

Unlike the rumble and power of a NASCAR event, this race pits against each other tubelike vehicles that
sound more like lawnmowers than race cars.

Black Widow ShellMost of the prototype cars, like the Black Widow, weigh less than 100 pounds.

“Our record right now is 2,752.3 miles per gallon. So you know that’s from California to Florida on a gallon of gas.”

Verent Chan is a fifth-year mechanical engineering student at CalPoly. He says the Black Widow has been in the making for the past four years and has performed well in previous competitions.

“This year the track is completely different — it’s a different location than we’re used to. It’s on an urban environment in downtown Houston, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us and something that we’re not used to and we’ve never been exposed to before.”

It’s the first time Houston has hosted the event. Mark Singer is the project manager for the eco-marathon. He says the U.S. event is usually held on a closed track in Southern California, but Shell wanted to bring the event to their U.S. hometown.

“This is actually the first time, not only that we’ve done it in Houston, it’s the first time that we’ve done it in an urban setting and on city streets. In the 25-plus years of the events around the world, it has always been done on a fixed track and so our dream was to get into the urban environment where we could expose more people to it and actually get more exposure for the students themselves. They’re the ones that are going to solve the energy challenge in the years to come.”

Eco Marathon Black ElectricThe prototype cars are far from useful for everyday drivers. But Singer says the concepts used to develop the
cars could be translated into the marketplace — and perhaps more realistically — the mentality behind developing more efficient cars and driving habits could seep into the public consciousness.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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