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Challenge X Competition 2008 Team Diary

Wednesday, May 21 (Day 9)

Summary: Today Amanda spent the morning at DOE for the satellite media tour. No Tulsa-area stations interviewed her, but she talked to INN. The focus today was the finish line ceremony for Challenge X. Mississippi State won the competition this year with Wisconsin in 2nd place. The team said goodbye to all of our friends then headed to the airport today (although Amanda had a late flight and so stayed to load Isabella for transport back to Tulsa). Our team was interviewed by Washington DC's Channel 7 at the airport. We have had a great trip, but we are happy to be going home.

Details: This morning Amanda is scheduled to talk to the International News Network via satellite. Every other team has stations from their community that they will interview with, but the organizers have been unable to arrouse interest from the Tulsa-area media. That's OK--we'll take international coverage instead! She has a makup artist gussy her up. They say she had some great soundbites!

Zach and Colin drive the car over to set up for the finish line event. Scott and Kyle go out to do a little final sightseeing. Everyone else takes a lazier approach to packing up and checking out.

At 10:45 we go to the finish line ceremony where we hear speeches from a variety of US and Canadian officials. They finally announce the top 3 positions. Third goes to Ohio State, Second is Wisconsin and First goes to Mississippi State. After the ceremony we break up for lunch and to say goodbye to all of the friends we've made. Connie Bezanson from DOE gets the photographer to take a photo of us Ohr adoptive team).

We go back to the hotel and grab our bags then begin the adventure of getting to the airport via the Metro. We have so much stuff that it takes us 10 minutes to walk one block. We finally arrive at the airport. Mari is flying to Boston. Michael is flying to California. Amanda is flying to St Louis. Everyone else is returning to Tulsa on American.

As we are checking in for our flight we are approached by Channel 7 news crews. Evidently American Airlines just announced a crazy new fee structure and they are looking for a reaction. They really want to talk to us because we are doing something to ease the most recent fuel crisis. It looks like we will be on the DC news tonight.

We are currently waiting to board a flight to DFW. It looks like things are running on time tonight. We all look forward to returning home!

Tuesday, May 20 (Day 8)

Summary: Today started with the final presentation on Outreach and Amanda's interview for outstanding Woman in Engineering. This was followed by a series of meetings with Representative John Sullivan, Senator James Inhofe and the legislative aide to Senator Tom Coburn. We also drove several other congressmen around in our SUV. We left at 5:00 to go to the Awards Ceremony. We are pleased that we won 2 bronze medals, 9 silver medals, and 2 gold medals in events. Our highest rankings were in the areas of Well-to-Wheels Greenhouse Gas emissions and On-Road Emissions Energy Use. Overall we ranked 5th!

Details: This morning Melissa, Michael and Amanda made the Outreach presentation at 8:20 a.m. The audience laughed and smiled occasionally which is a good sign for that group of judges! We think we're doing well this year and so every point counts.

At 9:00 Kyle and Matt prepare to drive the car to the botanical gardens area where the car will go through security and then they will be parked near the Capitol. Amanda has a 10:20 interview for the Women in Engineering award with Lyn St. James, so she goes over her resume one more time.

Mari and Dr. Patton take the Metro to the Cannon building where we will meet with Representative John Sullivan at 11:00. He is running late, so we have a pleasant chat with his staff. When we finally get in to see Rep. Sullivan we have a rushed discussion about college student life in Tulsa and his staff takes a photo. As we are leaving, an intern hurries out of the office after us. It is one of Mari's friends from middle school! He had recognized her voice while we were talking in the outer office.

Mari and Dr. Patton run into Amanda and Zach who are going to meet Representative Dan Boren. It turns out that the schedule has gotten mixed up and so he is unavailable to meet with them. In the meantime Mari and Dr. Patton move on to their next appointment which is with Senator James M. Inhofe. Mari is excited to meet with him since she used to help out with refueling his airplane! We have a pleasant visit and he sends us out with a photo of him and his children and grandchildren. Sen. Inhofe's aide gives us advice on where to get lunch. We have lunch at Cup's in the basement of the Russell building then go upstairs to Senator Tom Coburn's office. The senator is not available to meet with us, but his legislative aide (Brian) is very interested in talking with us. We are surprised to find the Tulsa People magazine that features our project is prominently displayed on the table in the waiting area. After the visit, Brian accompanies Mari to the car where Amanda and Matt are prepared to take him for a ride in the car. When they return to drop off Brian and pick up Dr. Patton a road is closed, so they take a diffrent route. Brian hops out of the car and returns to work and the students try to figure out how to pick up Dr. Patton. Unfortunately all of our cell phones are running out of battery power, so reaching anyone is challenging! Finally Dr. Patton ends up walking back and the students return the car to the parking garage at the Holiday Inn.

Many students are out at the museums and everyone who was involved in the congressional visits now takes the opportunity to see the things they've most looked forward to. At 4:30, Mari and Dr. Patton take display materials to the awards ceremony to help set up while everyone else gets ready.

The awards ceremony is held at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium. It begins with a reception where we mingle with the other teams and many of the sponsors. At 6:30 the doors to the dining room open and we move in to find a table. Of course they are set for 10 and we have 11 in our group, so we casually move one place setting from another table to ours. The dinner is a typical banquet chicken dinner. All too quickly, the awards presentations begin. This year the organizers have chosen to place teams into bins. The teams that are within 1 standard deviation of the top score will earn Gold, within 2 standard deviations will earn Silver and 3 standard deviations will earn Bronze. (OK, I might not have that right, but it is something like that!) We'll get a final list of awards tomorrow, but some of the highlights:

We earned Bronze Awards in:
   Static Consumer Acceptability
   Tailpipe Emissions (14 teams earned Bronze in this category--thanks, Waterloo!)

We earned Silver Awards in:
   Technical Paper
   Best Autocross
   Dynamic Consumer Acceptability
   Technical Presentation
   Control Strategy Presentation
   Road Rally Energy Use
   Well-To-Wheels Petroleum Use

We earned Gold Awards in:
   Well-To-Wheels Greenhouse Gas Emissions
   On-Road Emissions Energy Use

We also earned 2nd place in the National Instruments competition for Most Innovative Use of VI Technology.

They announce
   6th place: Penn State
   5th place: Tulsa!!!
   4th place: Waterloo

Tomorrow morning they will announce the 1st three positions at the Finish Line Ceremony and distribute sheets that give us more information about our rankings.

Monday, May 19 (Day 7)

Summary: Today we devoted ourselves to presentations. We had all three of our technical competition papers today: National Instruments, Technical, and Control Strategy. I believe they all went very well. Virtually everyone made it to the Smithsonian museums during the day. After the museums closed, we took the Metro to Chinatown for dinner at a Mediterranean tapas bar and dessert at Haagen-Dazs. Tonight we were celebrating the close of the Challenge X project and Amanda's 21st birthday (a little early). Following dinner, the team continued to practice for the Outreach presentation tomorrow.

Details: Today each team member is on their own until we meet for dinner. There are three presentations scheduled for today. Those giving the presentation are expected to arrive at their rooms a few minutes early and any other team members are welcome to watch.

The first presentation (10:35 am) is sponsored by National Instruments and is for the most creative use of their products. Scott and Kyle have won this one in the past and we've continued to use their products in innovative ways, so we feel confident about this one. The difference is that the presentation is done in a conference room rather than standing next to the car as in the past. Scott and Kyle feel good about the presentation and report that the NI employees are interested in trying out some of their applications when they get back to the office.

Our next presentation (1:35) is the Technical Presentation which will be given by Zach and Amanda. Last night in practice they have discovered that a couple of slides are out of order and they must live with it. They have spent a lot of their practice time figuring out how to make it flow as if it were meant to be that way. They pull it off without a hitch! The judges laugh at the appropriate places and seem pleased with the presentation. Questions about the HTUGo skid cause some fumbling, but otherwise it went very well.

Our final team presentation (4:10) is the Controls Strategy Presentation given by Scott and Kyle. This presentation also goes well despite the fact that it is the very last presentation the judges have to listen to today. Scott and Kyle handled the questions very well. Good job!

Throughout the day team members have been walking over to visit all of the museums in the area. Once the kids discovered that they were free, their excitement about being in DC really increased! We have set the time to meet for dinner at 6:30 and people have to scurry to get back in time. Unfortunately, Andrew has gotten to feeling worse, so Melissa and Andrew head off to George Washington University Hospital to get him some medical attention.

Tonight we plan to do a dinner honoring our team leader, Amanda. Her 21st birthday is Friday, so we've decided to also turn this into a birthday party for her and Melissa (who turns 20 on Friday). Since Melissa is still at the emergency room with Andrew, they are unable to join us. Connie Bezancon, our DOE adoptee, has recommended Zaytanya's which is a Mediterranean Tapas Bar. We know that "tapas" is Spanish for appetizer, but after we arrive we learn that in DC it is English for tiny plates of food at high prices. We share an assortment of tapas then walk to Haagen-Dazs for dessert. Once everyone has their ice cream, we gather around to honor Amanda. She has said that she doesn't want us to buy her anything for her birthday, so we haven't. Instead, with great ceremony, we give her a modified map of DC, a bag of coffee from the room, a pen from Freescale, a Rubik's cube and balsa airplane from other sponsors, a crossword puzzle, a gift card for free breakfast at the hotel in Baltimore. The "big" gifts are a sippy cup from the Air & Space museum (since she's still only 20) and a Rosie the Riveter shot glass (since she will be 21). Amanda, don't forget that you owe us all appropriate thank you notes for these gifts! Do I need to show you where the big stack of beverage napkins is?

After dinner we return to the hotel to learn that Andrew has mono. We all gather in his room to cheer him up. He was too kind to throw us out. The Outreach presentation team continue to rehearse late into the evening. Dr. Patton went to bed and so cannot give any further information on the evening!

Sunday, May 18 (Day 6)

Summary: Mari and Matt drive Isabelle from Baltimore, MD to Washington, DC while the rest of the group ride on the bus and work on presentations. Once we arrive to the hotel we settle into the lobby (since rooms aren't ready yet) and continue to prepare the presentations. All of the powerpoint slides are due this afternoon, so everyone pitches in to make sure they are ready. After the last slides are turned in, the group jumps on the metro and goes to Chinatown for dinner. The group reconvenes in one of the rooms to practice/critique presentations until 1 AM.

Details: At 8:00 a.m. Matt and Mari hurry over to the Maryland Science Center for a driver's meeting and road rally to Washington, D.C. They are saddened to learn that the time had been changed to 9:00 a.m., but we didn't get the message. That hour of sleep will be sorely missed later in the day!

In the meantime, the rest of the group gets a little extra sleep and catches the bus at 10:00. It is a gloomy, rainy day for a drive, but since we need to go over presentations, no one notices.

We all arrive at the Holiday Inn in Washington, D.C. at the same time. It is only 11:30 a.m. so the rooms are not ready yet. We gather in the lobby to work on presentations. We have to turn in 4 sets of slides within the next few hours, so it is a busy afternoon. Scott and Kyle must prepare for the National Instruments presentation and the Control Strategy presentation. Colin and Matt pitch in to help them. Zach and Amanda work on the Technical Presentation while Mari, Michael, and Melissa work on the Outreach presentation. Since "Mari, Michael, and Melissa" sounds like a doo-wop group, we briefly discuss having them sing their presentation, but decide that maybe that only sounds like a good idea because we are so tired. Andrew is running a fever. He helps out when people ask questions, but we are hoping that he will get better if we let him rest.

Three sets of slides work on the competition systems without a glitch, but the Outreach presentation has some issues. It uses an embedded video and a web link that do not work on the system. There is a bit of excitement about the fact that we are using an organizer's family laptop and their personal files keep popping up. We are given overnight to re-do the slides so that they work without internet connections while the organizer's correct the computer problem.

We finally get everyone into a room then head to dinner. We have been told that there are lots of great options in Chinatown which is only two Metro stops away. It takes all of us, but we figure out how to use the Metro fare cards and head down under the city. The escalator isn't working, but Melissa can ride the elevator to go down.

The only problem is figuring out what the floors M and T stand for. We finally decide T is for Train and make it downstairs. The kids train surf without incident.

In Chinatown we find the nearest place to get Chinese food. We are split into two tables that are near each other. After ensuring that everyone is ordering something different we sit down to a delicious meal. We are sure that we can't possibly eat it all, but sitting there long enough discover that we do make most of it disappear.

We take the Metro back to the hotel, take a thirty minute break then move into Amanda's room for presentation practice. Everyone makes notes and offers suggestions. When you run into these kids, be sure to ask them what their personal list of banned words is! For instance, Zach is never allowed to say "obviously" in a presentation! It is a very productive evening and everyone splits up at 1:00 a.m. to either go to bed or continue to work on their presentation.

Tomorrow the actual presentations begin!

Saturday, May 17 (Day 5)

Summary: Today we spent most of the day at the Maryland Science Center with our vehicles on display. There was a good turnout thanks to the beautiful weather. Mari Riera was interviewed by Automotive Engineering International magazine's Kami Buchholz during the event. The remainder of the day was spent enjoying Baltimore's Inner Harbor area and working on presentations.

Details: Thanks to a mix-up in the rooms, our group enjoy a free breakfast buffet at the Courtyard by Marriott. After breakfast, Mari, Matt, and Michael walk to the Maryland Science Center to clean up the car and set up our displays. We set up the display board that was used for our Static Consumer Acceptability presentation and a laptop with our 3 games from the website. We have brochures for interested adults and free t-shirts for the first 30 people who play our video games. They are a big hit!

In the meantime, the rest of the group is enjoying a more leisurely pace back at the hotel. Presentation teams are hard at work getting their slides prepared to turn in on Sunday. The rest of the group arrives at the Science Center in time for lunch and take shifts beside the car. Several team members have friends or family in the area and it is a great opportunity to catch up with them. Challenge X alumni from other teams stop by. Dr. Patton's son, Brian, spends most of the day with the team.

After the event closes, Andrew sets off to meet an old friend, Mari returns to the hotel to sleep, Dr. Patton goes to the Faculty Advisor dinner at the Rusty Scupper and the rest of the crew finally gets to go into the museum to see Body Worlds 2. It is a very cool display as long as you don't think about the fact that you are looking at parts of actual bodies that have been plasticized! After the museum the kids eat dinner dockside then return to the hotel to work on presentations until 3 AM.

At the Faculty Advisor dinner, Dr. Patton is thanked for her service on the Faculty Advisory Board with an organizer shirt and a clock for her office. Forrest Jehlik (of Argonne) pulls her aside to compliment the team on how well they are doing and, in particular, for their good results on the emissions testing. Having not seen them, she anxiously returns to the hotel to download the data.

The data is very promising! We were able to reduce our CO2 emissions from 600 grams per mile last year to 350 g/mi this year (primarily due to having the hybrid mode working more reliably this year) and our NOx went from 3.6 g/mi to 0.7 g/mi. We're thrilled with the results and excited to include this data in our Technical Presentation slides.

Tomorrow we head to Washington, DC and will spend most of the day practicing for presentations.

Friday, May 16 (Day 4)

Summary: This morning began at Tavern on the Green for a media ride and drive where we drew the attention of several members of the press. After driving members of the press around Central Park, we headed back to the Englishtown Raceway for refueling, minor repairs and lunch. We are having troubles with our brake lights overheating and shutting off, so begin the search for replacement lights. After lunch is the On-Road Fuel Economy competition which takes us from New Jersey to Baltimore. Our clutch actuator fails which slows down our group of cars, but we force the car into one of its failure modes and complete the event in diesel-only mode. Even with the difficulties, it appears that our fuel economy is 38 mpg(diesel).

Details: Three teams were selected to go do early morning shows at 5:00 am. The organizers selected last year's winner (Miss St), the most unusual vehicle (Waterloo), and the one with the greatest tug-at-the-heartstrings (Va Tech) for this privilege. Although we are sad to miss out on the publicity, we all welcome the extra sleep!

Everyone else checks out of the hotel at 6:30 to load up the buses and head to Tavern on the Green. There was only a brief drizzle when we start loading the bus, but by the time we finish getting our gear underneath it is pouring! The weather doesn't appear to be cooperating with our plans for an outdoor media event. The Tavern on the Green is not normally opened for breakfast, but GM has rented it for the morning and we have the place to ourselves. It is a beautiful restaurant and the food is fabulous! They even had a wonderful dessert buffet for breakfast. (We all initially declined on dessert, but nearly everyone finally caved in and had a dessert sample or two!)

Since we have 12 people with us and the tables are set for 10, we end up split into two groups. Just 4 of us sit at a table at the back of the room to make it easier for Melissa to get food from the buffet while on crutches. There are 6 extra seats which eventually get filled with the press as they arrive. George Blumberg of Auto Week is particularly interested in the story from our team and takes lots of notes. When we are finally given permission to get up and drive people around Central Park, George goes to our car first. Scott drives him around the park. Although it is a circle drive, there are lots of opportunities to exit if you don't stay in the right lane and so Scott and George get a quick tour of downtown Manhattan as well as Central Park. After the drive, they continue the conversation for another 45 minutes, then George came inside to talk to Amanda for a little more information about our vehicle. With about 15 minutes to go, George finally left our team to go look at a few of the other vehicles. In the meantime, Mari has taken someone from Automobile magazine on a drive. They did not get lost, but did have to make the circle a couple of times to find the correct exit from the park road!

Andrew and Kyle drive Isabelle back from Central Park to the Englishtown Raceway and everyone else loads onto the bus. The drive back is much easier than the drive into town had been despite the rain. The team returns to clean out the rest of our stuff from the hospitality suites and Isabelle gets in line to refuel. Refueling today takes a very long time because this is the measured fuel economy competition coming up. Forrest Jehlik (of Argonne) is using a flashlight to peer into the fuel lines to ensure consistency as we fill since they are using volumetric measurement rather than weight. The process is very slow. In the meantime, we are informed that our LED brake lights stopped working on the drive. The problem is diagnosed as an overheating issue (we do have a lot of lights in there!) and so we determine that we should replace them with traditional brake lights for the remainder of the trip. The organizers help us try to locate new lights without success. In the meantime our lights begin working again (as they cooled off) and it is determined that we can continue to run as long as an organizer's vehicle remains behind us. We will continue to search out new lights as we continue the trip.

After one last lunch at the raceway (not that anyone had an appetite yet after our large breakfast!), we put Amanda and Zach into Isabelle for the next leg of the road rally. Andrew, Melissa, and Dr. Henshaw hitch a ride with the Penn State Advisor to pick up Melissa's car, retrieve Mari and Amanda's lost jewelry from the Days Hotel, and take Dr. Henshaw back to Newark airport. Everyone else hops back on the bus.

This next leg of the trip is the On-Road Fuel Economy competition. The cars will travel on public roads in two caravans of 8. We are the last car in the second group. The first group gets off without a hitch. The second group does not start for 30 minutes to minimize the traffic congestion we might create. We have difficulty launching because our clutch actuator is holding the clutch down even when the controller tells it not to. We only need the clutch actuator when we transition from electrical to diesel modes, so it is decided that the quickest way to get us on the road is to disable the battery and force the vehicle into one of its failure modes: Diesel-Only. This allows us to complete the competition although not in our most energy efficient mode. Along the drive third gear begins dropping out. After many cell phone discussions back and forth between Isabelle and the bus, we become convinced that the problem is with Amanda pushing too hard on the gear shifter when she is just resting with it in gear. With a new style of driving enforced, the vehicle is able to complete the trip without any further glitches. Unfortunately, we are not the only vehicle that has experienced problems. Virginia Tech's battery has failed and will not be continuing the trip. Rose-Hulman stopped and is being trailered. Wisconsin has had more clutch problems. At a rest stop in Newark, DE, we are asked to leave one or two people behind to help out with any problems that need to be fixed. Scott and Kyle are left in Delaware while Dr. Patton continues into Baltimore with the remaining few (Michael, Mari, Matt, and Colin).

The first group arrives in Baltimore around 7:00 p.m. and checks into the hotel. We have a Keystone Kop moment as the 5 of us try to get the luggage for 11 up to the 8th floor, but we are finally successful. Shortly, Andrew and Melissa arrive and so this group of 7 head out to find dinner. We discover that we are here just in time for the Preakness Celebration which includes a loud band playing just below our hotel room windows and that every bar and restaurant is packed. We find a space at James Joyce's Irish Pub and enjoy a noisy meal. Andrew is running a fever and everyone else is exhausted, so we head back just as Kyle and Zach return from the rally. Scott and Amanda are still in Isabelle and we still don't have an answer for what is wrong with the clutch actuator.

We finally hear from Scott at 11:00 that they are at the fuel station in White Marsh. They again have to wait for everyone to refuel. Forrest gets out his flashlight again! We drove 160 miles and used 4.2 gallons of diesel. Not bad for diesel only! I wish we could have gotten a good number with our hybrid mode in place, but we appear to have better fuel economy than some of the teams who are running optimally.

After everyone refuels, they drive the vehicles to the Maryland Science Center to stage them for the outreach event tomorrow. Scott and Amanda finally get to their rooms at 1:15 p.m. and immediately crash. Tomorrow morning they get to sleep in while Mari, Michael, Matt and Colin take the early shift at the Science Center.

Thursday, May 15 (Day 3)

Summary: The acceleration event goes off without incident. Isabelle, with Andrew at the wheel, turns in an excellent time; we think good enough for 3d place overall. In the afternoon, we rallied up the turnpike and into Manhattan, with Isabelle arriving without any problems. Dinner is provided by the competition at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. Few of the students have ever visited New York, so it's a big event for all!.

Details: Breakfast is at 5:30, and the buses load at 6:30. Everyone has their luggage, as we are checking out and heading for New York City after the morning's events at the Englishtown RaceWay.

The only scored event left at the RaceWay is the acceleration event, which occurs this morning. Afterwards, there is a road rally in to New York City where the vehicles will be staged for a drive into Central Park on Friday morning. Tonight is "team skit night" at Planet Hollywood on Broadway, following the road rally.

Several students (Amanda, Andrew, and Kyle) are interviewed by cell phone by Oklahoma radio stations at various times during the day. These interviews have been arranged by the Challenge X organizers.

The rest of the team preps the pit area and does a little detailing on the car, getting ready for a media event, which takes places until about 10:30. At that point, the cars are staged for the acceleration event on the RaceWay dragstrip.

Andrew is our driver for the drag races, and had and Isabelle performs well. Our fastest of three quarter mile runs is just over 17 seconds, with a top speed over 81 mph. Only two schools (Mississippi State and Wisconsin) are faster. Afterwards, the organizers take official team photos of each team with its car, and then it's time for lunch!

After lunch, more time with the media and then the cars and buses are staged for the trip into Manhattan. Andrew drives this demanding segment, with Kyle navigating. Traffic is extremely heavy (especially for a bunch of country folk like us). Our route takes us up Route 18 to the New Jersey Turnpike, then up the turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan. We are staying at the New York Sheraton on 7th Avenue, a bargain at only $450 per room per night. The room taxes alone (over $60 per night) would pay for a decent hotel most places in Oklahoma. After settling in to our rooms, we hoof it down 7th Avenue half a dozen blocks to the heart of Times Square and Planet Hollywood. Dinner is on GM and the DOE, and afterwards we are all entertained by videos of the "commercials" produced by each school as this year's official "team skits." After that, some of the students decide to nibble a little bit on the Big Apple, while the rest, and their worn-out advisors, head back to the hotel for the evening.

Wednesday, May 14 (Day 2)

Summary: Another very successful day with lots less drama than Day 1. After some controls "tweaking" in the morning, the TU Challenge X vehicle completes a raft of events, including two separate emissions tests, a "consumer acceptability" presentation event given by Andrew Harmon and Matt Walker, a "drive quality" event, and finally, a student favorite, the autocross. Our car performs nearly perfectly all day long, and we complete each of the events available to us today in time for everyone, and especially the students, to enjoy a few hours doing something besides working on the car, sleeping, or eating.

Details: Breakfast is at 5:30, and the buses leave for the RaceWay at 6:30. We have no events before our consumer acceptability presentation at 1 pm, so Scott and Kyle get in a few solid hours tweaking the control system. At about 10 am, Scott and Kevin take the vehicle out for some diagnostic runs and to allow the vehicle to regen enough to establish a decent state of charge in the battery. About 30 minutes of driving mostly in regen mode brings the battery up to somewhere between 40 and 60% SOC. Scott is relatively pleased with the performance of the control system, although he wants to keep working on a few last details. Kevin, however, is concerned that our scheduled times for some of the various events are bunched towards the end of the day, and is encouraging us to wrap things up with the controls tweaking and try and get some of the events taken care of ahead of schedule.

This latter line of thinking eventually prevails, and by 11 a.m., Amanda and Kevin are soon headed off to run the emissions event.

The first phase of emissions testing is called an "ammonia slip" test (required because our diesel vehicle includes a urea system for NOx reduction. A byproduct of this system is the production of ammonia). Our car is fitted with the "black box" emissions testing equipment sealed to the tailpipe. This test is relatively short, and we pass with 70 ppm, well below the limit of 500 ppm ammonia.

The second phase of the test is longer, about 40 minutes. Both phases are driven by a competition organizer, with Kevin riding shotgun. For the second phase, the vehicle drives a set velocity versus time schedule, and emissions data are gathered the entire time. At the end, we are informed that we have passed, but we will not know numerical results, nor how we compared to the competition, for some time.

The vehicle is back in the pits about a half an hour before the start of the SCA (Static Consumer Acceptability) event. This is a presentation event, and our presenters are Andrew and Matt. They are both dressed nicely in slacks and our long-sleeved Challenge X white dress shirts. Three judges are present. Matt and Andrew discuss our car and its "consumer features" with the aid of the vehicle itself and a large foam-backed poster they had printed at Kinko's overnight.

Soon after, at a faculty advisor's meeting, we learn that the autocross will be run today (Wednesday) instead of on Thursday morning. This is because of the threat of rain on Thursday. Schools are advised to fit the autocross in whenever they can during the day on Wednesday, beginning at 2 p.m.

We will have to wait to do the autocross, opting instead to complete the "AVL Drive Quality" event. For this event, sensors for pedal position and for acceleration, noise, and vibration, are plastered throughout the vehicle and then an organizer drives the car through a set driving schedule. The data gathered are run through a complex algorithm built from the preferences of hundreds of different drivers for what "feels good" in a vehicle in terms of noise, vibration, and harshness. The event takes a fair amount of time, since the vehicle must first be set up with the sensors and then drive the rather lengthy schedule.

Our vehicle finishes the AVL Drive Quality event without incident and returns to the pit. The timing is good, as we are only about 30 minutes away from our turn at the autocross. The course, which is not especially demanding, is set up in the RaceWay parking lot. The day's best time is just under 45 seconds. There is one relatively long straightaway, perhaps 75 yards and a series of not especially technical turns. It appears the goal was to allow the cars to show what they can do without requiring an exceptional driver to turn in a competitive time. As well, this should be easier on the vehicles, which, after all, still have a week of competition ahead of them!

Our driver is Andrew. Each vehicle gets four runs; the first essentially a dry run with an organizer in the vehicle to familiarize the student driver with the course. Three timed runs follow. Andrew's strategy, agreed upon by the team, is to complete a very conservative first run to be sure to have a time on the board, and then to try and push the car a little harder each subsequent run. "Slow, faster, faster" is how the students term it. And that's how it works out. The first run is well over 50 seconds, the second about 48 seconds, and the third just over 47 seconds. Not good enough to win, but we should be in the middle of the pack, and, more important, we haven't left any parts on the track.

Andrew finishes his last run about 5 pm, which caps off a very successful day for us. We've completed all the events available to us and the car is behaving well. "Running as intended" is how Scott Rainwater aptly puts it. It's "amateur night" at the RaceWay dragstrip, and the entire Challenge X community is invited to watch free of charge as all the local Jersey hot-rodders compete for local fame and glory. The students all stay behind to take in the show, while their older, more dissipated faculty advisors opt to turn tail and head for the hotel and a good night's sleep in preparation for our invasion of the Big Apple tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 13 (Day 1)

Summary: The TU Challenge X team successfully passes through technical inspection (not without some drama, see below) at RaceWay Park in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, otherwise known as the Englishtown Raceway, and completes various other qualifying events such as the braking test and the dynamic safety/handling test. It has been a long day, nearly 16 hours at the event, but the team is very pleased with the ways things turned out, and is poised to begin scored events, along with the other teams, on Wednesday.

Details: Englishtown Raceway, Englishtown, New Jersey. The breakfast room at the Day's Inn is jammed with the hungry, if sleepy, students from half a dozen teams. At 6:15, everyone piles onto 4 big yellow school buses for a 30-minute ride to Englishtown Raceway.

The weather is sunny and cool, in the low 50s with a brisk north wind. Each team has a hospitality suite located with a spectacular view of the dragstrip, where the acceleration event will be held later on. The competition vehicles were transported earlier, courtesy of the Challenge X organizers, to New Jersey from each team's hometown. After a brief wait, the cars are driven out and lined up in the parking lot adjacent to a pit tent that is being erected for us. The vehicles have been pre-inspected, and on the dashboard we find a squawk list all typed out and ready to go. There are about ten items. Some are minor, others more troublesome.

Perhaps the most significant item relates to multiple exhaust leaks. The team had worked very hard in Tulsa to seal and test the exhaust system prior to shipping the vehicle and had been convinced that they had been successful. Evidently, we missed a few! The current plan is to drop the exhaust system, transport it to one of the tech support areas, weld up several leaks, re-test the system before reinstalling it, and then reinstall it and attempt to seal the flanges. We will not be allowed to run any events until the exhaust system shows no leaks when tested at 2.5 psig on the vehicle.

About 10:30, the exhaust system comes back from repairs, hand carried by Amanda and Zach. The leaky welds have been weld-repaired and have passed a leak test at 4 psig. However, one of the RTV'd flanges did leak at 4 psi, so the joint is being redone in RTV by Amanda and Andrew. Eventually, when the system is reinstalled on the vehicle, it will be retested, but only up to 2.5 psig. Amanda, Colin, Matt, and a few others reinstall the exhaust system, doing their best to RTV the flanged joints against leaks.

Lunch is provided: sandwiches, chips, and soda.

TU's official inspection time is, by random draw, the very last slot at 4:00 p.m. We want to give the RTV as long as possible to set up before we run the engine, so we are waiting, and waiting, and meanwhile a few students are working on some of the minor squawks, not things that will keep us from running.

Mari and Melissa go to the Outreach Coordinators meeting where they are informed as to the various outreach events later in the competition and also about the scored outreach presentation event to occur early next week.

Around 2 p.m., we pressurize our exhaust system (a self-check) and find at least three new leaks (leaks that were not found the first time). This is getting ridiculous. One of the leaks is near the front of the exhaust system, where the urea injection goes into the exhaust pipe through a 2 mm stainless steel tube. The tube needs to be re-brazed to the exhaust pipe, and it appears no one on the entire Challenge X site has any brazing rod.

Fortunately, the official Challenge X errand runner is up to the task since we are unable to leave the Raceway site. A few phone calls from Andrew's iPhone identifies a plumbing supply store not too far away. It appears we will have silver brazing supplies shortly.

At 4 p.m., Amanda, Scott, and a few others take the car to the inspection site for our official safety re-inspection. There is a line of cars waiting, so a decision is made to return to the site of the GM tech support bus, where the newly-acquired brazing rod is put to good use repairing not only the urea injection tube but also several pinhole leaks in various welds throughout the exhaust system. Shortly thereafter, the vehicle returns to the inspection queue. The safety re-inspection goes well, and the only "serious" problem noted relates to the electric driver's seat adjustment. Whenever the seat is moved all the way forward or all the way back, the fuse for the seat drive motor tends to blow. As a lot of people of various shapes and sizes will be driving our vehicle later in the competition (ride and drives, etc.) we are informed that we need to replace the fuse with a GM circuit breaker. We are given several days to effect the change.

Once through inspection, the students in short order are able to get the car through the braking test and the "dynamic safety" (handling) tests without incident. As we had the very last inspection slot there isn't enough time to get through any more events. At the suggestion of Kevin McFadden, we get in the queue to hand wash our vehicle. The car is absolutely filthy, with seemingly months of north campus grime baked onto the lovely blue and yellow paint job. Four or five of us hose, scrub down, and then dry Isabella in the dark at about 8 pm.

By 9:30 pm, we are able to catch the last bus back to the Day's Inn in East Brunswick. Several students stay up late working on the consumer acceptability presentation and poster, in preparation for our talk at 1 pm on Wednesday. A pdf for a poster is e-mailed to Kinko's in the wee hours of the morning.

Monday, May 12 (Travel Day)

Summary: Team members arrive by air at Newark Liberty airport.

Details: Christi Patton and John Henshaw (faculty advisors), Amanda Emnett (team leader, ME major), and team members Scott Rainwater (EE), Kyle Hanneman (EE), Zach Jones (ME), Mari Riera (ME/Spanish), Matt Walker (EE), and Colin Elkin (EE), arrive at various times from various locations. Meanwhile, team members Andrew Harmon (EE) and Melissa Young (Syracuse U.) arrive by car from New Hampshire, where they've been attending Andrew's mother's college graduation.

One last team member appears to be missing. Michael Kennedy (Chem. E.) is not at the Newark airport as scheduled. Repeated attempts to contact Michael finally yield a solution to the mystery: Michael's flight from Oklahoma to Newark isn't until Wednesday!

The team has a quick meeting in Dr. Patton's room at the Day's Inn in East Brunswick to go over the next day's schedule. Breakfast is at 5:30 a.m., and the bus leaves at 6:15, kids!




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