Shell Eco-Marathon: From friendly bet to international competition

How it all began
by Tracy Carpena | Oct 29, 2013

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Just like other athletic competitions, the Shell Eco-Marathon had humble beginnings--so humble it began as a friendly bet among Shell scientists. The lab guys\' idea evolved, and several years later, a more organized contest was launched in France.

The super-mileage competition\'s birth is pretty similar to how the now-worldwide sport of Ironman began: It was conceived in the 1970s by a group of people with a common passion, and well, a similar level of madness. In the Ironman\'s case, a group of runners and swimmers were having a friendly debate on which athlete was fitter--the runner or the swimmer. Someone pointed out that one Belgian cyclist had the highest oxygen uptake of any athlete ever measured, thus making the cyclist the fittest athlete. The group decided to settle the debate by organizing a racing event combining the three disciplines: 3.8km swim, 180.25km cycling and 42.2km run. The sport has grown since then, and several triathlon events of different distances are now organized all over the world.

SEM, on the other hand, began at a Shell research laboratory among a group of scientists. The folks wondered who could get the most miles per gallon from their vehicles. The winner of the clique\'s first contest barely got 21km/L. Today, that\'s something the Mitsubishi Mirage supposedly achieves. In 1985, SEM was born in France. Then in 2007, the first SEM Americas was held in the US. Not long after, the competition reached Asia. In 2010, Malaysia\'s Sepang International Circuit was host circuit for the first SEM Asia. The circuit continued to host the super-mileage competition in Asia for the next two years.

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The contest is not about being the fastest vehicle nor is it about having the fanciest car. The student-participants\' cars should travel the longest distance with a given amount of fuel to win the title. The students from Dhurakij Pubdit University in Thailand achieved a mileage of 2,903km/L. If our modern passenger cars had such mileage, a liter of fuel would enable us to take five road trips from Manila to Baguio and back.

SEM Asia will tackle a street setting next year until 2016. As such, the driving experience will be very different from the enclosed track in Malaysia. The urban jungle host is Luneta Park in Manila. The area will be closed to traffic, of course, to give way to 150 teams from all over Asia; 17 of these are representatives from our country. According to Shell Asia Pacific hub manager Xiaowei Liu, it was decided to bring SEM Asia to an urban setting to mimic real-life road conditions. Moreover, the goal is to bring the competition to the streets to involve more people and to create awareness.

Perhaps after the first super-mileage competition in the streets of Manila, the crowd and support will multiply for the next edition--pretty much the same way that the first Ironman gained its headcount from 15 participants to thousands now, and its crowd support from just the participants\' immediate family to basically everybody in the community. We\'re betting on that. And perhaps soon, more fuel-economy or mileage competitions will arise from small wagers and friendly competition among peers. If you have a crazy idea on mileage competitions, feel free to share it in the comments section below. Sometimes all we need is a little madness to spark great ideas.

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Photos by Tracy Carpena


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