The Raider Motor Sports (RMS) program at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Indiana, just completed its seventh year as a competitive super-mileage team, building a functional vehicle designed for maximum fuel mileage. Each year the team of young engineers is responsible for completing and testing the vehicle and troubleshooting any problems, as well as all business operations including fundraising, financial planning, and marketing.
The Northridge students approached the Middlebury NAPA AUTO PARTS store a few years ago asking for a donation. The NAPA store, one of 11 in the Jenkins Automotive group, has donated store credit to the RMS team each year since. Store manager Jerry Yoder said, “We enjoy giving back to the community and it naturally makes sense for NAPA to be one of the sponsors for this student-led project. When the students come into the store we enjoy helping them find parts and providing advice.
RMS Competes in Sonoma and Indianapolis
This year’s RMS team, consisting of six full-time students and three after-school members, concentrated on designing a single vehicle for competition. The ultimate goal of the year-long project is to design and build a vehicle with high gas mileage. At each competition, the vehicle must pass technical inspections before attempting to successfully complete a set number of laps of a track. Fuel mileage is then calculated for the vehicle. As the team designs and builds the vehicle, they must adhere to very strict technical rules provided by the competition sponsors.
The RMS team participated in two competitions this year, the 80th annual Shell Eco-Marathon Americas at Sonoma Raceway in California and the 3rd annual Indiana Super Mileage Challenge at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
In early April, the team traveled to Sonoma to compete in the Urban Concept class against 27 other high school and college teams from North and South America. They spent two days of an intense 12-point technical inspection with as many as 20 individual items at each station. After successfully completing this challenging part of the competition, the student-designed vehicle then had to complete seven laps of the Sonoma Raceway. Again, the team was successful and achieved a gas mileage rating of 97 mpg giving them a 12th place finish.
According to Nick Taylor, one of the Raiders Motorsports team members, “We were ecstatic with our results and 97 mpg set a record for our school. Next, we had to get ready for Indy.”
Changes Pay Off
The Super Mileage Engineering Challenge at Lucas Raceway challenged teams to design and build the most energy-efficient vehicle possible. The vehicle that travels the farthest distance using the least amount of energy is declared the winner.
Taylor said, “We learned a lot from the other teams and their vehicles at Sonoma, especially the winning team that got more than twice the gas mileage we did. So when we got back home we brainstormed ways to improve our gas mileage.”
The RMS team decided to add deflectors and fins to reduce the drag of the car. In addition, they added wheel covers to the front and rear tires to increase the aerodynamics. The team looked at many different race car designs and researched the ideal angles of the deflectors in the front and rear of the vehicle. They first modeled their design in cardboard and then used aluminum sheets to fabricate the actual parts.
The improvements paid off. The car successfully completed four separate runs on the track (10 laps/run) and improved their gas mileage to 202 mpg earning the team the first place trophy for the Developmental Class at the Super Mileage Engineering Challenge.
“We were super excited with our results,” said Taylor. “The 202 miles per gallon we got was 105 gallon increase over Sonoma. That was another school record.”
Taylor just completed his junior year at Northridge High School and plans to compete as a member of the Raiders Motorsports team again next year. Although it’s too early to make a decision, he is considering a career in automotive engineering.
The RMS Vehicle
The Northridge High School RMS vehicle features a plastic body modeled from a Dodge Challenger that was scanned and then scaled down to size. The body is supported by an aluminum frame. The chassis is powered by a rear-wheel-drive system powered by an internal combustion Honda GX160 engine. The Urban Concept car has four wheels and contains the functions of a street-legal car, however, it is not street legal itself.
The frame of the Northridge High School RMS vehicle is constructed of 1” x 1” x 1/8” aluminum square tubing. The top and bottom of the frame were fabricated separately. After the two parts were completed, the entire frame was welded together. The bottom of the frame has a layer of fiberglass across its length. The vehicle firewall is composed of a three-layer polypropylene composite that can withstand temperatures up to 180°F.
The gasoline engine is an air-cooled, 4-stroke, 4.8 horsepower, single cylinder Honda GX160. The power from the engine is converted to the wheels by use of a CVT chain running to a jackshaft. From there, a chain and sprockets attaches the jackshaft to the rear axle. The braking system is a 150cc hydraulic brake kit with the master cylinder preloaded with DOT3 brake fluid. There is also a hydraulic emergency disk brake attached to the rear axle. The car features a rack and pinion steering system.
To ensure the safety of the driver, the RMS vehicle has a five-point harness bolted directly to the frame of the car to ensure proper grounding. The aluminum frame provides separation from the engine and driver, and the roll cage protects the driver in case the car flips upside down. There is also a self-locking emergency stop switch, a fire extinguisher, and a dead man’s switch on the steering wheel. The firewall between the driver and the engine is formed out of a sheet of 7mm fiberglass honeycomb which provides a shield from heat.
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