WWU officially out of $10-million X PRIZE competition

Matthew Anderson
University Communications

The team from Western Washington University is officially out of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition, having been unsuccessful at completing the accident avoidance maneuver and 60 mph-to-0 mph braking event during the dynamic safety trials on Monday, July 26, at Michigan International Speedway.

"This is difficult for us, because we were able to complete both of these events just a couple of weeks ago during the knockout phase," said Eric Leonhardt, director of WWU's Vehicle Research Institute.

"We need to hold our heads high, because this has been a great achievement to get this far in the contest," Leonhardt said. "From a student's and an educator's perspective, I can't imagine any other way to bring these lessons home to these students - technical lessons, interpersonal skills, time management, leadership, these are all things that we learned here. We've shown that Western Washington University can compete at this level."

WWU was among the last six teams in its class and eight teams overall. When teams were first cleared for competition last year, 136 vehicles from 111 teams were in the running. WWU was the last remaining American university team in the competition.

During the efficiency events in the finals, Viking 45 achieved the equivalent of 112 miles per gallon before penalties were assessed that brought the total down to roughly 97 MPGe, still well above the 90 MPGe required to advance. The WWU team also had no difficulty reaching the 100-mile range necessary to advance, and in fact could have run for hundreds more miles.

Throughout the competition, the WWU team impressed their competitors, the judges and themselves.

Don Hayward, a current consulting engineer at Grand Am who has had a long career in the automotive industry, including at Rahal Letterman Racing and Ford Motor Company Racing, said he has been more impressed by WWU than by any other team.

"For them to have made it to this stage is a real accomplishment," Hayward said. "I told the guys I really admire them; they're the ones I admire the most in this contest. I couldn't be more pleased or proud of a group of guys that I've never known before. They deserve, I think, some special recognition. They've made it to the finals of a competition that a lot of teams with a more professional background haven't been able to achieve. These are college kids, but they're bright, hardworking college kids."

Marques McCammon, the chief marketing officer for the competing Aptera team, said he and his whole team have been impressed with the way the WWU team members have handled themselves throughout the competition. In one of the earlier rounds, when the WWU team thought they might be eliminated, McCammon asked to have the WWU team members crew for Aptera as a way of giving them on-the-job interviews.

"Western Washington University, of the academic teams, they've made it further than anyone else, and I think it's because they've got a collection of young people who are very focused on what they're doing, they're very passionate about it, and they're very self-sacrificing," McCammon said. "I watch the work ethic, I watch the way they interact with each other, and I'm impressed."

Oliver Kuttner, head of the Edison 2 team, which has the only cars remaining in the mainstream class of the competition, had similar praise for the WWU students.

"Before we even knew them, we watched them go through shakedown, we watched them go through some really hard times," Kuttner said. "I don't really know what the technical difficulties were, but I know they were an extremely upstanding group. They worked relentlessly, they were definitely on the edge of what's possible, and they were true gentlemen about it, even though they were so young. (Their car) is extremely well done. It's a really formidable program, the car is something to be proud of, and it's a really good-looking car."

Kyle Foley, crew chief for the WWU X PRIZE Team, said the team improved tremendously as students and as engineers throughout the competition. They learned enough to be able to slug it out in an international competition with teams with much more professional experience.

"We want to show these guys that we know what we're doing," Foley said. "We want to show the world that we have a pretty cool car, that we have a pretty good setup. And I think everyone's seeing that."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - 4:11am
Western Washington University's Viking 45 waits for the start of an all-vehicle parade during the finals at the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition in Michigan. Photo by Matthew Anderson | WWU

Western Washington University's Viking 45 waits for the start of an all-vehicle parade during the finals at the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition in Michigan. Photo by Matthew Anderson | WWU

Western Washington University's Viking 45 reaches the finish line of the 100-mile range event during the first week of the finals at the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition in Michigan. Photo by Matthew Anderson | WWU

Western Washington University's Viking 45 reaches the finish line of the 100-mile range event during the first week of the finals at the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition in Michigan. Photo by Matthew Anderson | WWU