Behrend students revved up over International Supermileage Challenge victory

ERIE, Pa. — John Pearson wasn’t entirely comfortable in the carbon-fiber test car he helped build at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

“It’s rough in there,” he said. “It’s like being in an Easy-Bake Oven.”

The ride home was nice, though. Pearson, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, made room for the International Supermileage Challenge trophy, which he brought back to campus for the second consecutive year.

“That felt pretty good,” he said. “We’re proud of it. We put a lot of work into this.”

Twenty team members spent nearly a year designing, assembling and testing the car, which got 1,290 miles from a single gallon of gas at the two-day Supermileage competition, held June 6 and 7 at the Eaton Corp.’s test track in Marshall, Mich. A car built by students at Brigham Young University did better on the track — 1,330 mpg — but the Penn State Behrend team dominated the design phase of the competition, which showcases the far edge of fuel efficiency. That put the team on top in the overall standings.

The team also won the event in 2012. That car got more than 1,400 mpg – enough to get from Erie to Denver on a single gallon of gas.

This year’s car was 20 pounds lighter. Students added a leaf-spring suspension and a rotary-valve engine. They installed a trip computer, which automatically idled the engine at 20 mph. Any faster, and the car would have been less efficient.

The team paid $1,000 for four handmade radial tires. That backfired on the Eaton track: A flaw with the wheels made the tires go flat. The students swapped them out, mounted the 2012 tires and raced again.

In the end, it was good enough. The team edged Brigham Young in the final point count, as they had in 2012.

Pearson, out of the test car and back in the U-Haul, all the gear locked down behind him, headed east, to Erie. He had 310 miles left.

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Last Updated June 21, 2013