Built for speed

By Luke Frank

Photography By Bret Latter

Thursday, January 02, 2020

New Mexico kids design electric cars to race at annual challenge

students give presentation to judges
FULLY CHARGED — During the oral competition, the students impressed the judges with their car design and testing procedures.

See below: 2019 New Mexico Electric Car Challenge results

The fastest time from start to finish was 3.422 seconds of pure acceleration down a 50-foot strip. The cars were electric, the students were energized and the event was a gas.

In its 12th year, the New Mexico Electric Car Challenge brought students from across the state to Albuquerque last November to race their team-designed model electric cars head-to-head down a straightaway course.

As Carlsbad Intermediate School Team 2 raced to first place, some students cheered, some groaned and others stared with the intensity of a kid eating a melting ice cream cone.

students watch their cars race
PROPULSION COMPULSION — Students anxiously compelled their car to the finish line during one of the performance races.

The challenge, sponsored by Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, attracted nearly 250 students this year, batched in 48 teams of 6th, 7th and 8th graders, to build the fastest model electric car. Student teams from 19 schools in 13 New Mexico communities formed in September, and this event was the culmination of weeks of compelling exploration connecting science and math with hands-on activities outside of the classroom.

The motor and battery pack were required and provided, but the students gathered and assembled the parts, including car body and chassis, axles, gears, wheels and more. Teams were scored on three elements: car design, oral presentations and the actual car races.

While there was ample drama on the race track, the real action started months ago with teams of elementary and middle school students forming, ideas churning, designs emerging, prototypes failing, redesigns succeeding and overall engineering principles being explored and tested in earnest.

students make repairs on electric car
HIGH PERFORMANCE — Many teams found themselves making last-minute adjustments or repairs on the spot.

Roosevelt Middle School Team 1 from Tijeras told judges that they designed their “Real Deal” hotrod with the body modeled after a Lamborghini to be low tension, low friction, light weight and indestructible. Almost in concert, they explained the several prototypes they built and tested, experimenting with gear ratios. “Our car just wasn’t fast enough,” said one. “On our fourth try, we had something that was working pretty well,” explained another. “Then we built a fifth prototype that was too fast and kept smashing into walls,” a third chimed in.

The team, composed of four girls and two boys who took second place overall in the challenge, went on to enthusiastically talk about gears, aerodynamics and power sources. The judges were impressed. “It’s absolutely astounding what your team has done,” one said. “What an amazing process you’ve put yourselves through.”

“The New Mexico Electric Car Challenge is designed to create and feed a hunger for science, technology, engineering and math,” said organizer and Sandia community involvement manager Amy Tapia. “The concepts and excitement that these students bring to their projects demonstrate that hunger. They are unquestionably inspired.”

2019 New Mexico Electric Car Challenge results

kids and judges set up at starting line

START YOUR ENGINES — Student teams designed and raced electric cars with guidance from their coaches in the 12th annual New Mexico Electric Car Challenge.

Overall winners

1st place/$750 school donation:
Carlsbad Intermediate School Team 2

2nd place/$500 school donation:
Roosevelt Middle School Team 1

3rd place/$250 school donation:
Sierra Vista Middle School Team 2

Carlsbad Intermediate School’s teams took home five trophies, also placing in the Second-Chance Race Design and Oral competitions. The Carlsbad teams dedicated their cars to fellow students battling cancer.

Roosevelt Middle School’s teams took home three trophies, also placing in the Design and Oral competitions.