Wisconsin Madison Sweeps Clean Snowmobile Challenge
By Marcia Goodrich | Published
The University of Wisconsin at Madison triumphed two for two Saturday, March 21, at the 2009 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, winning in both divisions of a competition tailor-made for the Snow Belt.
The veteran team's dual entries took both the National Science Foundation Award for the best sled in the zero-emissions division and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association Award for first place in the internal-combustion division.
The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers, held annually at Michigan Technological University. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance. This year, the internal-combustion entries adapted their engines to run on flex-fuel, with varying ratios of ethanol and gasoline.
Now in its 10th year, the Challenge established a second category for zero-emissions snowmobiles in 2005. These battery-powered sleds are designed for use by researchers in pristine, arctic locations.
Sporting his signature lucky mohawk haircut, UW-Wisconsin team captain Nick Rakovec said he was "overwhelmed" following Saturday's award ceremony. "I almost had a heart attack at the end," he said. "It's almost too good to be true."
The Badger team built on the success of last year's zero-emissions entry, which took the gold in 2008. "We knew we had a good sled, so we just added a few changes," he said. "On our internal-combustion sled, we learned a lot about the value of simplicity from last year's winner, Clarkson (Potsdam, N.Y.)."
The team also spend several months testing their four-stroke Polaris in the lab before heading out into the field. "We've got lots more miles on the sled than last year," he said. "Real-world testing is a major part of engineering. You can have the best design in the world on a computer, but it's a whole different world on the trails."
On its way to the gold, the team from Madison earned a laundry list of other awards. Its internal combustion entry won the Land and Sea Award for Best Performance and the AVL Award for Best Emissions. Its zero-emissions snowmobile took both the Polaris Industries Award for Best Handling and the DENSO Corporation Award for Best Ride, unusual accomplishments for a battery-powered sled. It also won the Keweenaw Research Center Draw Bar Pull Award, a zero-emissions event.
A Society of Automotive Engineers Award for Best Design is given in both the internal-combustion and zero-emissions categories, and Madison nabbed them both.
Host school Michigan Technological University earned a silver in the internal combustion division with its 2008 Polaris, winning the Yellowstone National Park Award for Second Place. In addition, the Tech team received the PCB Group Award for the Quietest Snowmobile, the Sensors Inc. Award for Lowest In-Service Emissions, and the BlueRibbon Coalition Award for Most Practical Solution. And, Tech also received the Bill Paddleford Founder's Award for Most Sportsmanlike Conduct.
The University of Idaho's two-stroke Ski-Doo was honored in three categories. After logging 13.3 mpg in the Challenge's 64-mile Endurance Run, it earned the Gage Products Award for Best Fuel Economy. It also won the International Engineering and Manufacturing (Woody's) Award for Best Acceleration and the EMITEC Award for Best Value.
The University of Waterloo's (Ont.) four-stroke Bombardier Ski-Doo garnered the Caterpillar Corporation Award for Innovation for its efforts to leverage ethanol's properties to improve sled performance. Waterloo also received the Altair Best Simulation-Driven Design Award.
Making its first trip to the Challenge since 2002, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks brought a zero-emissions sled and earned the Hawk Technology Safety Award and the CH2MHILL Polar Services Range Event Award, presented to the zero-emissions sled that travels the farthest on a single charge.
The University of Idaho and Clarkson University's internal combustion entries tied for the bronze, receiving the American Council of Snowmobile Associations Award for Third Place. And the University of Maine's internal combustion sled received the SAE Milwaukee Chapter Award for Fifth Place.
While winning is immensely gratifying, Vince Lombardi would have been out of his element at the Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Winning is far from "the only thing," say the participants. The Challenge's value comes from what the student engineers learn about teamwork and engineering, not from awards on the mantelpiece. "The experiences I've gained in this program far outweigh anything I've done in class," Rakovec said.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.