SEMA 2015 Final Update – Lessons (Part 2/2)

(More Photos at bottom)

Continued from Part 1/2:


I was once again powerless. I pulled over to the side of the track and put my hazards on (yes, we have those). In a flash, the safety crew surrounded me and hoisted me to the towing vehicle. Once the track was clear, I was given a tour of the track behind a safety car. It was not my proudest moment, but rather one of deep reflection. What prevented our success? What had led to all of our problems? Were they avoidable? What should we do differently next time?

There are numerous aphorisms about moments and weekends like those of SEMA 2015, but all them of agree – struggle, obstacles, “or whatever,” all build character and wisdom. To all of our readers, especially to the younger members of our team, here are some insights our SEMA team would like to share:

Balazs Gyenes: Eco-marathon … is guaranteed to be the most stressful yet positive experience you’ll have on EcoCar. There is always a strong sense of team spirit that emerges during the race, and it is very satisfying to see the culmination of a year’s worth of work. Like a theatrical production, you’ll want to be way more prepared than you think you’ll need to be, making sure that the car is polished, tested, and optimized. Things will not go as planned. Partly because of this, it is even more important than usual to schedule team breaks, set aside time for fun and team-building, and make sure that people get enough sleep. The challenge is not to associate your race score with how much fun you have and how much you learn.

Christophe Owttrim: This year’s competition provided a plethora of learning and development opportunities. As a team, we faced major, unexpected technical hurdles and had to respond to them extremely rapidly to have a chance at a run. Most notable on the mechanical side were of course our motor shaft failure and the need to retrofit the vehicle with a luggage compartment. In responding to both these issues, I felt that the team’s collaboration skills definitely improved, as well as our ability to create and implement workable designs on short notice and with limited resources. The event also provided many chances to interact with other teams, industry representatives, and subject matter experts. Personally, I really enjoyed these interactions and feel that they allowed me to both increase and share my technical knowledge, especially regarding fuel cells. The soft skills that we learned at SEMA are not easily taught in class and are a major contributor, in my opinion, to the overall value of the event.

Kent Zutz: Be prepared for anything, everything that you expect to go wrong, won’t, and everything that couldn’t possibly go wrong, will. So expect the unexpected and be creative. Any problem can be resolved one way or another, you just need to not only listen but hear other’s opinions. All input is valuable, and don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. Most of all, let yourself have fun!

Mike Bardwell: Shell Eco-marathon was an amazing learning experience for myself. I was given the opportunity to learn practical circuit design from some of the best and also got to drive Steve on the track. It was enlightening to see the troubleshooting flow chart applied to our car, especially when it came down to really difficult challenges. Somethings (most, actually) did not accept the fix right away, but with some teamwork and an abundance of patience we were always able to overcome them. Would I recommend SEM to future UAlberta EcoCar members? Absolutely. As long as they expect to sacrifice some sleep to take part in the creation of something amazing, o`r whatever.

Mike Blouin: Nothing ever goes completely right. Ever. But looking back, it’s the things that we put the most time, effort, and thought into that end up working out the best. So it’s important to look out for the other things – the ones that get forgotten about until the last minute. The problems that aren’t the most sexy or interesting are often some of the most important. You need to do the things that are interesting and that drive you, but it is equally important to just take care of business and get the little things right. But most importantly, always remember to enjoy the people you’re with, and don’t let other things come between you. When it’s all said and done you probably won’t miss the car or it’s insides much, you’ll miss the things you were doing, and the people you were doing things with. Push hard, set records, but always have fun. That, you will remember.

Salma Elmallah: It’s important to have objectives going in to the race, whether you have a mileage target or you just want to pass tech, but unexpected setbacks will always come up at competition, which is why it’s important to value the process and your growth as a team and as an individual more than the goal itself. That being said, you’ll be slightly more able to predict some of those setbacks next year, so spend the weeks before competition buying or making anything you’ll reasonably need as back up at the race. Also, eat breakfast and get enough sleep and explore the city you’re in! I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how interesting and beautiful Detroit was.

Nik Viktorov: Have a rest once in a while. Even a short nap is enough to get you recharged and thinking clearly. Sometimes in the darkest of moments, if the team is really struggling with an issue on the car, it is hard to see the benefit of a rest. Well, it is always, always, always, valuable. It helps collect your thoughts and it helps you concentrate on the task in front of you. Like the Geico commercial “15 minutes could save you money”, this is “15 minutes could save your chances at racing the car”. I think it is somewhat of a no brainer.

Our team learned and bonded in Detroit. We explored some of the city’s infrastructure, discussed what we each believed to be effective education, and provided each other a space to truly learn from each other away from our second home, the Vehicle Projects Lab. We each stepped out of our comfort zones and gained insight to bring back to our team and to the University of Alberta student community.

Thank to you to everyone who has supported us over the past year. Thank you to the Faculty of Engineering, the Engineering Students’ Society, the University of Alberta, all of our sponsors, Shell, and everyone who cheered us on!

Lastly, thank you to our graduating members. Your contribution to the team will not be forgotten – your insights and wisdom will be passed along by those of us receiving the torch. I hope that your time with the team will remain with you as you progress through your life and that this post will bring you a smile when you stumble upon it again!

This summer, our team will be continuing our build of our new car! If you’d like to check the build out, join our mailing list or team, or chat about the future of transportation, feel free to contact us at!

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. – Vince Lombardiout