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BYU engineering students finished in fourth place when they raced the gas-electric hybrid race car they built from scratch against teams from colleges around the world.

The teams competed across several categories - the Cougars took second place in presentation and electric acceleration.

Their blue-and-white car goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds while it gets 80 miles per gallon. The team spent more than 8,000 hours working on the project as part of their Capstone experience, a senior course in mechanical engineering.

Grades are turned in already, but their crowning moment came as part of the Formula Hybrid competition at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway against teams from Yale, Dartmouth, India, Russia, and 35 other teams.

It was BYU's first time racing a gas-electric hybrid, and they were competing against teams with several years' experience.

Here are some of the features of the team’s “Lithium Lighting”:

  • Its secret weapons are 120 candy-bar sized lithium batteries. Each one provides about the same power as a standard battery, but at one-fifth the weight.
  • A custom carbon fiber shell helps keep the car at a trim 450 pounds, about half the weight of the competition’s average entrant last year. Because the competition is geared more toward agility than top-end speed, that helps a lot.
  • The students believe they are the only team that has a system in which the gas engine and the batteries both feed the generator, rather than both turning the wheels. Setting this up in a series, rather than parallel, should give the team a power advantage. But it was really hard to do.
  • During a recent test drive, the car alternately sounded stealthy in electric-only mode and rip-roaring in gas mode.

“From the outside, it looks like just a cool car,” said faculty coach Robert Todd, professor of mechanical engineering. “But the engineering behind it is what is really special.”

Peter Ransom is the student team leader. Other members are:Ben Richards, Brandon Davies, Greg Rasmussen, Jeremy Wade, Keith Allen, Marc Simonsen, Matt Robinson, Michael Call, Sean Cornwell, Thomas Tolman, Tyler Davis and Victor Chiang.