Energy Breakthrough tests students’ skills to create and race ultra-efficient cars

Handcrafted cars with names like Stampede, Eco-Rush and Nitrous will zigzag through small gaps on a busy circuit and slam on the accelerator — all in the name of the environment.

Pupils from more than 100 Victorian schools have spent the past year designing, building and refining their sleek, energy-efficient cars.

This weekend they will put their creations and themselves to the test during the 30th Energy Breakthrough through the streets of Maryborough in Central Victoria.

The five-day event culminates in a 24-hour enduro race that will challenge the fitness of every draft, as well as the physical fitness of hundreds of school-aged riders.

Jordan Macilwain, a teacher at the Maryborough Education Center, was in grade school when she first participated in the Energy Breakthrough.

Two decades later, she helps coordinate the school’s six-car campaign.

“There have been many changes but the basics have remained the same in terms of the team environment and the qualities we try to bring out in the kids,” Ms Macilwain said.

“The shape is the biggest change, like the nose, the width. Of course it depends on the rider, but the speed has gone up a lot.”

King of the road

There are different categories and classes within the Energy Breakthrough, but the challenge is essentially the same for the students: to design, assemble and race the most energy efficient vehicle possible.

Most cars are described as HPVs or human-powered vehicles.

It is unclear whether this vehicle is powered by solar energy, batteries or the power.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

They resemble recumbent tricycles with shells and fairings to make them suitable for long-distance racing.

While the riders’ physical fitness and training play a role, the designs that offer the best compromise between comfort, presentation and aerodynamic efficiency prove to be the strongest contenders.

Maryborough Education Center has three cars competing in the secondary school race, in addition to two primary school participants and a specialist school team.

Year 12 students Ella Bartlett and Joshua Britton are among the school’s drivers who will be in and out of the car during the 24-hour race.

“You’re kind of lying down and you’re looking straight ahead,” Ella said.

There is a lot of buzz around the circuit about this car.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

“It’s very exciting to be among everyone else [on the track]. I feel like when you’re up against other ‘trikes’ they push you to go much faster.

“People can crash into you pretty hard. It feels a bit dangerous, but in our trike it’s pretty safe with all the roll bars and the fence.”

The power is yours

For every student who gets behind the wheel of a car, there are several who use their time and skill to design them or make sure they stay on the track.

Ryan Ferris and Bohdan Mollard are part of the support team at Morwell’s Kurnai College, which has entered two cars in the competition.

“I work on both of our vehicles when they need it,” said Bohdan.

“If the chain comes loose or there’s damage that needs repairing, I get dirty.”

Some schools have taken the design and technology aspect of the Energy Breakthrough to another level.

Nathan Magri trades in a freshly charged battery.
Nathan Magri trades in a freshly charged battery in the vehicle of the Damascus College Sustainable Racing Team.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

There are classes within the Energy Breakthrough competition in which vehicles with electric motors can participate.

Ballarat’s Damascus College has competed in HPVs since 1998 and won the event in 2009.

“Usually we have at least one HPV entry, but this year we thought we had the skills and equipment to make all of our vehicles electric,” said Rachel Beardall, program assistant for the Damascus College Sustainable Racing Team.

“There’s a lot more to electric, hybrid and electric vehicles. You have the motors and gears to get it right, but every car is very different, so it’s actually good for the students,” she said.

Pit crew standby

While HPVs often change drivers to keep them fresh, EV crews also need to change and charge batteries.

Year 9 student Bailey Fuhrmeister is one of Damascus College’s riders.

He said driving an electric vehicle came with its own set of challenges.

“I think it’s more fun because cornering is more challenging and there’s battery management too,” he said.

“Battery conservation is extremely important.”

The Energy Breakthrough 24-hour race for high schools starts at 1 p.m. Saturday and ends at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The final results are calculated based on the distance each car travels during the event, the design and construction, and how each entry is displayed and presented.

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