SAE Supermileage: Race Day – The Conclusion

6/7/2013. Afternoon

Amid the sympathetic congratulations of the organizers and the competitors a snap decision was made. Despite there being little more than two hours until final refueling call, this team would not join the four teams withdrawing from the competition due to engine difficulties.  The team had a spare test engine, stripped to its most basic components, in a crate in the U-Haul which had carried the small Charger car across seven states to this competition. The engine had been put through hard paces on the dynamometer, and there was little time to tune the engine properly; nor was there even a guarantee of getting it assembled and running in time to reenter the contest, yet the team sprang into immediate action without a moment’s hesitation.

Team co-leader Joe Olenick began assigning tasks in a rapid fire manner while co-leader Dan Bennett rushed to inform the officials of the team’s intention to reenter the race. Team member Erik Wengenroth quickly helped extract driver Brittanie Albera and get her hydrated. Engine specialist Mike Sestito led a group sprinting to the team’s encampment to begin uncrating the spare engine and organizing the tools for the operation. Others followed with the car. It was an admirable show of teamwork. Even Mr. John Kelley and your devoted author were pressed into service by the suddenly mobilized crew.

The group split into three crews: One to remove and strip the damaged engine, another to simultaneously assemble the spare, and a third in support of the other two, handing parts and tools from one group to the other, keeping the area neat, even running to the nearest auto parts store for fresh oil.

Can We Get It Done?

Can We Get It Done?

Less than two hours later the small car with the big team rolled proudly back to the refueling station to reenter the competition. There were time for two more runs. Could the team improve the mileage with a tired and out of tune engine? It was now in the hands of drivers Brittanie Albera and Dan Bennett.

Back In The Pit!

Back In The Pit!

Those members of the team which had been on the engine swap crew suddenly uncoiled as a group, looking somewhat like a group of people who had been holding their collective breath for too long before simultaneously exhaling.

The remainder of the day passed in anticipation of the results of each run. The first run with the new engine roughly matched that of the original engine, prompting a hurried driver conference between Brittanie and Dan to devise a strategy for milking every mpg possible from the tired replacement engine.

Dan pulled to the starting line, among the last cars to do so for the day. He roared off (Yes, these little cars do roar, though in a slightly higher pitch than a NASCAR stocker) and ran his race at a slightly higher pace than the earlier runs of the day, using the added momentum to coast the straightaways.

Dan Roars Off The Start

Dan Roars Off The Start

In an almost perfectly judged finish marred by an inopportune breeze Dan shut the engine off halfway through the final turn of the course, coasting several hundred yards through the final straightaway to within five feet of the finish line before being stopped by the aforementioned breeze. The entire row of spectators, now swollen with the ranks of the crews of our competitors who had finished out their day a little earlier, let out a groan. Everyone there had been willing the little car to go that extra five feet. For a moment every single person at the track was member of the University of New Haven Tagliatela College of Engineering Supermileage Team, and every single one of their hearts fell with ours when the car would go no further,

Dan restarted the engine, let out the clutch, crossed the finish line, and immediately shut it down again. In a race where a single drop of fuel can carry a car 50 or more miles it likely cost the team dearly in mpg to have to do so. There was no chance of winning, of course, not with only three runs on the day and a tired, untuned engine pushing the car, but there remains a certain sense of “what if?”

In my humble opinion, even had the car coasted five more feet and gotten another hundred miles to the gallon as a result, I wouldn’t trade it for that fleeting moment when everyone there was a member of our team. Moments like that are rare, and as the students grow and go through life, becoming successful engineers with careers and families, that is a moment they will treasure, even if they don’t know it right now.

At the end of the day the team finished tenth out of a field of twenty eight competitors, with a best economy of 281 mpg.

A camaraderie was developed with fellow CT competitors CCSU, and there is talk of the two teams trying to organize a Supermileage Scrimmage series, perhaps at Stafford Motor Speedway in preparation for next year’s event. All in all the competition could be considered a success for the UNH TCoE Supermileage team from virtually any perspective you chose.

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  1. Rich, great read thank you for such a good tale of hope and hard work.