"Did anybody tighten the tires?" Christopher Evins wondered aloud as a fellow member of the Evans High School Electric Vehicles Club took the group's dual-engine-powered racer for a full-speed test run around the back parking lot.
This is not the kind of thing you want to second-guess at 35 miles per hour. Fortunately the car - think a full-sized go-cart running with a cool electric hum - gripped the turns and shot the straightaways like a Rockingham veteran.
The only thing the six-student Electric Vehicles Club expected to break at the May 3-4 Georgia Association for Electric Vehicles Rally in Dawsonville, Ga. was the competition's spirit. Featuring three distinct events - the acceleration race tests speed, the endurance race tests the engine's ability to sustain power for a pre-determined time and the autocross event tests the vehicle's maneuvering capabilities - the GAEV Rally featured 17 teams from high schools all over Georgia.
"We won the endurance race last time," senior Drew Etterle said of last November's rally just before leaving for this month's competition. "We hope to get the acceleration race, too."
This year, however, their car missed out on placing in any of the three races by a few seconds. Team Evans dide it to the finals of last weekend's GAEV quiz bowl.
"We had a lot of fun," said advisor Ron Easler. "We learned a lot, of course. We learned how to change some things and fix some things for next time."
The races aren't just a gearhead display of bravado. Like the other GAEV competitors, the EV Club's racer is the product of a state science grant challenging students to design an efficient vehicle powered by alternative fuel. In addition to the road competitions, Team Evans will participate in a college bowl-style quiz, take written tests and give an oral presentation all intended to display the technical knowledge accumulated throughout the project.
Initially the grant was awarded to Evans' science department, but it was turned over to the CareerTech-Education program almost immediately. CT-Ed teachers Elvin Skidmore and Easler signed on as advisors to the club, E-Z-GO donated an engine and it was time to get rolling.
"They have done some things that are very innovative," Skidmore said of Team Evans, which, judging by the career aspirations of the majority, could also be called the Future Engineers of Columbia County. "If you were to go to this thing in Dawsonville, you would probably not find another vehicle like this."
Since that first rally in November, the EV Club - seniors Evins, Etterle, Sean Cassidy and Scott Wells, junior Raj Bhattacharjea and sophomore Chad Bain - have spent at least two afternoons a week fine-tuning the black and gold roadster. While most competing vehicles run both engines simultaneously, Team Evans has designed its car to conserve power and maintain speed by alternating two different-geared engines. All cars come from the same basic kit and specifications, so any up-shift in ingenuity can be the difference between finishing first and not finishing at all.
Skidmore gave all credit for designing, modifying and troubleshooting problems with the car to the students.
"A lot of times their younger perspective is more valuable than ours," he said. "They haven't failed at something and said 'That won't work.' Instead they say, 'We'll try it and see.' And, lo and behold, it's something we never thought of."
During the last test-run before Dawsonville, it seems the club has thought of everything.
"There should be something on the back," Easler said as the car sped past. "'If you can read this, you're losing."'
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