Illini EcoConcept aims to rank nationally in car competition


By Brooke Eberle, Special Sections Editor

Each year, an RSO called Illini EcoConcept builds a new car in six to seven months to compete in the Shell Eco-marathon competition. It’s not just any car: one that is eco-friendly and does not run on traditional gas.

Illini EcoConcept submits their car into the hydrogen fuel cell class of the Urban Concept division. The car must look like a normal vehicle with four wheels, and it must run on hydrogen gas.

The team is known to rank high nationally each year, and were even interviewed by Jay Leno in 2015. The team won first place five years ago, second place four years ago and fifth place three years ago. However, last year they were disqualified on a technicality.

“Usually, we are one of the top in the whole United States in our division for the competition, but we got disqualified because Shell forgot to give us a tracking chip, so there was no way of validating that we had completed a run,” said Adrian Tovar, junior in Engineering. “It was very hectic last year. That year they changed the rules a bit and it was very hard to pass technical inspections, so no one in our division was able to complete a run even though we technically did, but it didn’t count.”

There are 12 leadership positions in the club, including electronics, body, steering and suspension, and power train; there are 30 to 40 people in Illini EcoConcept. However, the total fluctuates as members come in and out.

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“We’ve learned from our mistakes. Honestly, on top of building the car correctly (what is important) is communicating with the judges and making sure that our car passes tech inspection,” Tovar said.

Richard Mauge, sophomore in Engineering, is in charge of designing and building the body and the chassis for the car. He said he was drawn to the project because he could build the car to look any way he wanted. He started out by drawing concepts for cars, and was excited by the idea of seeing them come to life in a competition.

Tovar said he first learned about the club from Engineering 100, an introductory class required for all engineering majors.

“The Engineering 100 teacher, he was the president at the time so he kind of recruited me to visit. I joined as a freshman, and little by little I became a lead for one of the designs,” Tovar said.

Tovar said he did not have a lot of knowledge about cars coming into college, but was more drawn to bikes. He would repair friends’ bikes and also customize his own.

Now the mechanical design lead, Tovar is responsible for overseeing all work on the brakes, suspension and steering. He makes sure the car is able to move on its own.

“We were using the same design specs for previous years, but this year we’re going to build a whole new car,” Tovar said.

Tovar said he is currently working at Caterpillar, and that “it’s a really good talking point.”

“Other employers that I’ve heard say, ‘If you’re on the car team, you’re pretty much one of the top people we look for, especially if you’re in a lead position,’” Tovar said. “It’s a really great way to network as well. At the competition last April, we got to talk to some of the Shell executives and representatives.”

Mauge said recruiters look for the skills needed for the competition.

“A lot of recruiters like the ability to not only design something, but also build something. The fact we’re designing an actual car that can technically be legally driving on the road is a big accomplishment in itself,” Mauge said.

Tovar said he is unsure about whether he wants to work with cars after he graduates, but is excited to see where car innovation goes in the future.

Although the club is mainly geared toward those in mechanical engineering, Mauge said that it welcome all majors, especially those in engineering or computer science.

They are also looking for several business majors that would be interested in searching for sponsors for the club. The car takes approximately $35,000, and the club received this from the Student Sustainability Committee. However, the club still needs extra money to cover the cost of traveling to Detroit, Michigan, for the competition, as well as other additional costs.

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