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Eco-race: Pakistanis on right track, fall short of finish line

Published Jul 08, 2012 03:02pm

Teams line up on July 6, for the flag-off ceremony at the Sepang International F1 Circuit in Malaysia. – Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

The Shell Eco-Marathon Asia reached a climax of activity on its final two days as student teams and their cars were finally flagged off on the track and began to drive their cars around the circuit to try and achieve the best mileage.

Now in its third year, the competition challenges Asia’s brightest young minds to create innovative vehicles of the future that push the boundaries of fuel-efficiency and energy conservation.

By the time the competition ended on July 7, the record for longest distance on one litre of fuel had been broken by Thai team Luk Jao Mae Khlong Prapa, who topped their own 2011 performance with a remarkable mileage of 2,903 kilometres on just one litre of ethanol.

The team achieved a 30 per cent improvement over their previous record by making several changes to their 2011 car design, that included a change of engine, air-fuel ratio, and driving strategy.

This year’s competition also attracted more students than the last two years since the Asian wing of the Eco-Marathon has been held – with 119 teams participating from all over the continent and a total crowd of over 1,500 students and visitors.

One of the UrbanConcept cars drives in the pit-lane before entering the main F1 track (on the right), as the other team-members watch. A section of the F1 track at the Sepang circuit was prepared for the competition. – Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

There were a total of 31 awards handed out at the close of the ceremony for first and second prizes in different categories, as well as for off-track achievements such as team spirit and eco-design awards. You can see the full awards from all the teams here.

Pakistani teams were not able to get any awards this year, and many technical problems combined with tough competition in the tracks left them short of winning results.

In spite of Pakistan’s lack of prizes, this was probably the best year for them overall, as it saw most teams competing successfully until the last stages of the competition, tackling problems that occurred in the pits as well as on the track.

The NUST PNEC team prepares their UrbanConcept car – named Bolt - for the opening flag-off ceremony, in which they represented Pakistan. - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

In the last two competitions, Pakistani teams had found it difficult to pass the safety tests in order to reach the track and set a valid distance on the score-card. This year most of them passed their tests, and five of them went on to complete their laps and set a distance on the score-card of the competition. These teams came from different universities and represented different parts of the country, such as Pak Octane, a team from Hitec University in Taxila, who had a Galosline Prototype car and got a result of 119 Km/l after their successful run.

The team-members from Hitec University pose outside the pit with their prototype car and a Pakistan flag after completing their successful run. – Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

Not all the teams were able to do successful runs however: Team Hammerhead, from GIK were one of the best teams from Pakistan, however compounded trouble with valves, brakes and other areas resulted in an interrupted final run, which to the team’s disappointment, was initially going well.

“It was the last run we could have done because time was running out, we had a great mileage until we had problems with the engine and had to stop” said Shams Mawji, their team leader.

The major issues that Pakistani teams faced with their cars were not unique to their contingent; however their lack of resources sometimes held them behind.

“The other teams come prepared with all the spare parts from their countries, they bring extra engines, and brakes and such.” Said Nauman Ahmed, a Shell Team mentor “The Pakistani teams cannot afford that, and then when a part fails or something needs to be replaced, they don’t even know where and how they can procure these parts in Malaysia.”

These problems, combined with the lack of overall financial or structural backing that these teams had, resulted in some hard-working teams falling just short of targets because of problems teams were not equipped to solve.

“You see the problem is, we have sponsors, however they tend to come into the picture a bit late,” says Abid Ibrahim, GM External Affairs at Shell, “in other countries the sponsors come in right in the beginning and they are able to fund all the research and expensive equipment that the teams need to develop their car.”

The resulting problem is cyclical, the sponsors are deterred by the lack of success that Pakistani teams have at the competition, but success is tough without a strong and consistent sponsorship from teams.

Many of the team-members are final year students, and they are entering the competition for the last time. “We want to go back and set up a society that helps the future teams build on our success and learn from our problems” says Hammerhead team-leader Mawji, who pointed out that their whole car was built in GIKI.

Team-members from Hammerhead work together on their prototype car in the pit on the flag-off day of the competition. - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

Mentorship and patronage from universities is also slightly weak, a problem that some of our teams share with the Indians, “Our biggest problem is that we don’t have any senior guidance” say the team-members of Team Lakshya from Chandigargh, “If you look around at these teams, they have faculty members and really experienced professionals accompanying the teams during the competition, we don’t have that and we feel the pressure. Perhaps this should be made compulsory.”

Team Lakshya, like other Pakistani and Indian teams, did not win any awards this time. They won an award for Perseverance in the Face of Adversity in 2009, and a design award for their Stealth style vehicle as well. This time, they were the first Indian team to do a valid run in the competition.

Members of Team Lakshya from India pose with their Shell Mentor, Nauman Ahmed (left) while working on their car in the pit. – Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

For the subcontinent teams however, the warmest moment perhaps occurred after the vibrant awards ceremony, where the Indians joined the Pakistani teams for a photo-session that turned into a joint celebration of each other’s hard work and nationality. In a rare moment of harmonious celebration the contingent of teams could be seen together arm-in-arm, taking group photos and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad! Hindustan Zindabad!” for each other’s countries.

All the teams from Pakistan and India hold up their country flags while they cheer and celebrate their efforts at the end of the competition. – Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

Judging from the growing enthusiasm, and more experienced teams, hopefully we will see more success for both countries in future competitions.

Nadir Siddiqui is a photographer and multimedia journalist at Dawn.com.