GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 15, 2013

Electric car program on roll in Rockport

Student car program on a roll in Rockport

By Allegra Boverman
Staff Writer

---- — Tooling regularly around the Rockport High School track these days are two unusual looking, low-slung vehicles going no faster than 30 to 40 miles per hour, if that.

They are odorless and silent, except for the familiar whirring sound of bicycle wheels.

Every so often, a group looking on intently from the sidelines rushes at one or the other vehicle to make a small adjustment, or take the vehicle right back to their nearby classroom for more urgent repairs.

This is the Rockport High School Electrathon team. The students work with these electric vehicles that run on car batteries, constantly upgrading and overhauling them; tweaking and making adjustments and repairs to improve their performance.

According to the Electrathon America website, the events they prepare the vehicles for are a type of “electric marathon,” in which “the winner is determined by how far you go in a certain time with a given amount of battery power.”

The team, funded by the Educational Foundation for Rockport, is also part of a class at the school — technology and design, taught by Dave Young — who is new this year to the school and also serves as the team’s advisor.

Each vehicle — one considered “classic,” the other newer and considered “composite” — runs on two car batteries. In regional and national competitions, these vehicles race for one hour to test how far and how efficiently they can travel in that hour.

“If your car is lighter and more efficient, the better,” team member and RHS junior Billy Chalmers explained

The team spends time doing research on how to make their cars as energy efficient as they can be.

Some team members are interested in engineering study and careers.

Senior Ben Cook wants to also eventually get involved with race car driving, and junior Josie Garfield is thinking about which branch of engineering she’d like to pursue in college; right now, she’s interested in civil engineering. Teammates work well together, kidding around and teasing each other, but they’re also serious about their vehicles.

New this year for the team’s vehicles are instruments the group installed to measure volts, an odometer, speed and currents. They also cut holes into the composite vehicle for better ventilation because that closed structure gets very hot when it’s driven.

The team, which has been around for at least six years, hopes to be able to build a third, solar vehicle, so they can participate in competitions in that category.

The team just competed for the third time last Friday in the regional Connecticut Electrathon, held at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., a track that’s used for rally car driving and training. It has some hills in it, team members explained, and those hills can be difficult to navigate.

They compete there twice a year, and each time, the team has won a special award for traveling the farthest to get there. They like to leave Rockport at 2 a.m. the day of the event and drive a moving truck loaded with the vehicles through the early morning hours to get there and set up. Parents assist with travel.

In the fall, the team took third place against 12 other schools. This time, they were competing against more than 20 schools.

Young said that, even though their team is small in numbers, the students have managed to compete well against schools with larger teams.

He said that, while the team didn’t get a trophy this round, “we felt like we did very well with both vehicles making respectable finishes.”

Young said that despite a few glitches including mechanical issues and a tire blowout in the middle of the race, “our pit crew’s heroic efforts kept us in the running.”

“Our drivers did a superb job of pacing their cars so that the batteries were not fully drained until the very end of the 60-minute allotted time, which is a winning strategy,” he said. “We improved our lap counts for both cars over our scores from last fall’s competition, so I am very proud of our efforts.”

Allegra Boverman is the chief photographer and a staff writer for the Gloucester Daily Times. She can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3448 and at aboverman@gloucestertimes.com