Day 3 at the Shell Eco-marathon Europe started bright and early at 6:30 am. We made our way to the paddocks to continue working on the car and to take it to technical inspection for the first time in London. With spot number 20 in the line, we queued up in high spirits which, unfortunately, soon turned to boredom since we needed to wait for a total of four hours before getting into the testing area. One of our more opportunistic members (calling you out Ryan!) even decided to catch up on some much needed sleep inside the car!
Finally, at 10:30 am, we began the tech inspection with driver weight testing, safety checks, design checks, etc. Since we didn’t have the fuel-cell valves yet, we didn’t go to through the hydrogen testing component. We were apprehensive but things went well and we passed with flying colours in everything except the taillights component. Our original taillights were a Canadian flag where the white in the middle served as the running lights and the red as the brake lights. For some reason, Shell changed the rules for the taillights at the last moment and required all taillights to be solely red. A little disappointed at this turn, we brought the car back so Ryan could wire up some red LED strips to the taillights and disable the white parts. The newly modified lights were then given the go-ahead by the inspectors. And with that, we were done with everything except the hydrogen and brake components (somehow we forgot to do the brake testing during tech).
Around this time, Michael B arrived with our fuel-cell valves and after some quick celebratory grunts, we installed them and began testing the fuel-cell system. Everything seemed ready so we took the car back to the technical inspection area and sailed through without any issues. And with that, at 6 pm London time, we proudly cleared technical inspection at our second competition in 2016!
The rest of the day was spent testing our systems in preparation for taking the car to the practice track the next day. A lot of unexpected problems were cropping up but with determination and teamwork, we were able to fix most of them. The paddocks closed at 11 pm and, exhausted after a long but productive day, we decided to call it a night and catch some sleep.
The next day, we got to the paddocks early in the morning and took the car to the small practice track. We found that the previous day’s testing had loosened and misaligned some parts of the drivetrain. This was causing the car to shake and the chain in the drivetrain to slip. So, we brought the car back and began fixing these issues. We added some more metal to the drivetrain mounts to increase their stiffness, re-tightened everything up and re-aligned the bearings. Simultaneously, on the electrical side, we were facing some strange issues with the fuel-cell. The fuel-cell system would be running fine one minute but then suddenly turn everything off due to a low pressure alarm. Quick side note about the benefit of working in a group like EcoCar – you get to solve open-ended engineering problems like this where the solution is not at all clear. In order to solve them, you need to diagnose, hypothesize, and test solutions.
Anyway, we dealt with these problems and took the car out to the main track where we tried to get a practice run. Unfortunately, the motor kept cutting out since the motor controller (ESC) was unable to provide enough current to generate the torque required to move the car from a dead stop. After a few tries, we pulled out of the track and went back to the paddocks to try to fix this issue. At the end of the day, we had a breakthrough when our new motor controller solution finally worked. We’re going to try switching out the old motor controller with this new one to see if it solves our problem. This took most of the day and at 11 pm, the final paddocks closing announcement was made and we decided to head back and take a fresh look at things the next day.