ATU Finishes Top 20 in International Contest

It required a 3,800 mile road trip, the combined talents of 11 students and a good deal of grit to get it done, but Arkansas Tech University found redemption at the 2018 Shell Eco-marathon Americas challenge.

ATU finished 18th in the international automotive engineering competition, which drew teams from the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador to Sonoma, Calif., in April. A total of 36 teams attempted to run in the prototype internal combustion engine category, including Arkansas Tech.

Making it to the race track was an achievement four years in the making.

The ATU Department of Mechanical Engineering began working toward a Shell Eco-marathon entry in 2014. By 2017, ATU was ready to send a team to the Americas challenge in Detroit, Mich., but a last-second component failure prevented the Arkansas Tech team from racing its car.

One year later, Dr. Bruce Chehroudi, head of the ATU Department of Mechanical Engineering, was standing in California’s Sonoma Valley when he knew 2018 would be different.

“This one ignition felt and sounded so good and something unforgettable,” said Chehroudi. “Before we knew it, Nate (Robertson) was on a track to deliver what the team came here for. Everyone was excited and we scattered to find the best spots for watching the green ATU car. From a distance, I could see a green car. Nate had successfully completed the required number of laps. Words just cannot explain that moment, especially for a few of us who had participated in 2017 and could not compete on the streets of downtown Detroit. The team was allowed to repeat several times, every time with a more optimized driving strategy to enjoy the ride and achieve a better fuel economy performance.”

Robertson, a mechanical engineering major from Paris, served as president of the ATU Society of Automotive Engineers and team leader for Tech’s Shell Eco-marathon efforts during the 2017-18 academic year.

He was joined in Sonoma by teammates and fellow ATU students Evan Owens of Decatur, Marcus Majied of Detroit, Mich., Michael Anderson of Casa, Amanda Corbin of Dardanelle, Andrew Lea of Russellville, Justin Stroud of Hector, Eduardo Estrada of Russellville and Justin Duke of Beebe.

Tech students Garrison Phillips of Kingston and Ben Bell of Hensley were also part of the team that planned and constructed the car.

ATU’s entry achieved a fuel consumption rate of 212 miles per gallon during the competition in Sonoma.

The ATU team, which included nine mechanical engineering students, one electrical engineering student and one cybersecurity student, was originally placed on a waiting list to attend the 2018 Shell Eco-marathon Americas challenge. It wasn’t until six weeks before the event that Chehroudi received an e-mail that invited Arkansas Tech’s team to make the cross-country trip.

“For sure, the odds were against us,” said Chehroudi. “They had to rebuild the car’s outside shell, overcome difficulties to run an engine that had been sleeping for months and would not wake up, reinforce the car’s chassis and frame, resolve the engine electronic control system, re-tune components, perform in-house tests and more.”

Once the team arrived in Sonoma, more adjustments were necessary. The ATU group had to race against the clock to solve problems with engine operation, the brake system and steering control before the car could pass inspection and move on to the track.

“I firmly believed that they not only could do it, but it would be yet another highly valuable and unique educational opportunity for our students to build self-confidence, bring pride, enhance reputation and boost visibility for them and for the university,” said Chehroudi. “Considering that it was our first time being on the race track with this car and we had time constraints, I am very proud of our students and consider the outcome very satisfactory, highly motivating and greatly encouraging.”

Chehroudi expressed appreciation to the following individuals for their support in making the project possible: Dr. Wayne Powell, interim dean of the ATU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Carla Terry, administrative specialist III in the ATU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Randall Eubanks, machinist in the ATU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and ATU alumni Justin Jeffery and Chris Williams, members of the 2017 ATU Shell Eco-marathon team who came back to assist the 2018 team.

“We could not have been able to go this far without our students’ teamwork, creativity, collaboration, self-motivation and the generous ATU administration’s support,” said Chehroudi.