March 20, 2018, Vol. 24, No. 14

First-Time Supermileage Driver Makes Tech Shine


by Jenn Donovan

Michigan Tech’s Supermileage Systems Enterprise, part of Tech’s Advanced Motorsports, took first place for innovation solutions at SAE International’s Collegiate Design Supermileage Competition in Marshall, Michigan. The $1,000 award was sponsored by Top 1 Oil.

Michigan Tech’s team was one of 23 teams from the US and Canada who participated in the competition and one of 14 who passed the technical inspection. The Tech team placed 5th overall based their design report, presentation and fuel economy results, winning another $500 prize. They also won awards for best design execution and best overall team attitude, adding another $400 to their winnings.

But the hero of the day was Claire Sullivan, who was driving in her first Supermileage competition. Rick Berkey, Enterprise director, said: “I am giving our driver Claire Sullivan the ‘Coolest Driver under Pressure’ Award for her on-track performance.”

Berkey explained. “We were the last team on the track, and our final run was going very well. All this changed on lap 5 of 6, when the chain came off. We thought we were done and even stopped timing our laps. BUT, our driver Claire exited the vehicle (which is allowed) and got the chain back on without assistance.

“Here is where the excitement comes in,” Berkey continued. “In order to post a successful run and comply with the minimum and maximum speed constraints, we needed to complete the final lap somewhere between 3:50 and about 4:10 minutes—only a 20-second window to hit and about 2 minutes faster than our optimal lap times, all without any feedback on speed/time.

“As Claire accelerated, the engine cover blew off; it is normally secured by tape. Then, the cockpit cover blew off. It is not really designed for the driver to reinstall unassisted while sitting (or rather lying) in the car.

“To make matters worse, the cover bumped one of the kill switches in the process and shut the car off. Claire figured this out and reached up to turn the switch to the run position (all while strapped in a six-point safety harness).

“At this point we literally told Claire over the radio to ‘trust her gut.’ And she did. Her final lap was 3:57–not too fast, not too slow, but just right. The timing judges were impressed; we were in awe, and Claire was clearly our hero of the day.”