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Alden-Conger students preparing for Brainerd race

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/13/2013 2:37 PM

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ALDEN, Minn. — The cars under construction in the shop at Alden-Conger Junior-Senior High School resemble combine snouts more than vehicles cruising past on the nearby interstate.

The cars are experimental, built for the supermileage challenge. Alden-Conger has participated in the program since 2000.

Every year, the students strive to build a better car than the year before. They want to reduce friction and do whatever they can to improve mileage.

This year, they used ceramic bearings, which sell for $500 apiece and special tires that come from France and cost $80 each. Each car has three specially built Michelin tires. They made contact with a North Carolina resident who had worked with NASCAR. He told them about high performance parts for the motor.

There's $2,500 to $3,000 invested in each car, said Drew Folie, a sophomore at Alden-Conger High School. The community supports the supermileage team, contributing $15,000 this year.

"Without them, we couldn't do it," Folie said. The money was raised through business sponsorships, a pancake breakfast and working concession stands.

Folie joined the supermileage team in eighth grade and plans to stay involved for the rest of his high school career. He's the E100 team captain and the car's driver.

Race day is the best experience ever, he said.

He and other team members are busy converting the car from E100, the fuel it ran on during a Houston, Texas, competition, to E85 for the Minnesota Supermileage Challenge at Brainerd International Raceway May 14-15.

The E100 car has a carbon fiber frame and it weighs 125 pounds. They will put a Briggs and Stratton engine in the car and ready it for the six-mile run at Brainerd. It's a two-mile track, Folie said. He'll travel at a top speed of 30 to 35 mph.

Next to him in the shop, Parker Hemmingsen, a junior, was installing a new fuel injection system in the gasoline-fueled car last week.

Both the car Hemmingsen was working on and the car fueled by E85 will run in the Minnesota Supermileage Challenge.

Given that the cars don't look anything like road-legal vehicles, what's the purpose of building a supermileage car?

Some past supermileage cars have influenced modern-day cars, said Jacob Wallin, a freshman and team captain for the gasoline car. Today's cars are much more aerodynamic and lightweight than their predecessors, much like the supermileage cars.

The Shell Eco-Marathon, where the team competed in early April, has a street legal class, said Brady Neel, a sophomore.

The supermileage team spends the fall learning the engineering and science involved in building the car. In the winter, they begin their hands-on effort, said team adviser David Bosma, an Alden-Conger science teacher. They learned how to use AutoCad and submitted a paper for the race in Houston and the one in Brainerd.

The students are eager to spend time working on their cars.

"These kids, they would live at the school if they could," he said.

The Alden-Conger team will take four cars to the Supermileage Challenge. In addition to the E85 car, they are taking three more that run on gasoline: One modified, one stock and one experimental.

The experimental vehicle will have a one horsepower Briggs engine that came from a sump pump.

Their goal at the Supermileage Challenge is to break the 721 mpg E85 record.

And next year? In 2014, they may participate in the electric class at the Supermileage Challenge.