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Snowmobile team wins national championship

The national championship Clean Snowmobile team.

The national championship Clean Snowmobile team. Team leader Eric Schroeder sits directly behind the snowmobile. (large image)

In only its third year of existence, the UW-Madison Clean Snowmobile Team has emerged as national champions.

The nine-member team, comprised of College of Engineering students, beat 17 other teams at competition held March 15-20 in Houghton, Michigan. The Wisconsin team beat out the host Michigan Tech University team, scoring 1,078 points to win by 78 points.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, is a collegiate design competition that calls for students to find ways to create cleaner-running and quieter snowmobiles. Students work on reengineering an existing snowmobile to make it run with cleaner emissions and less noise, while at the same time maintaining or improving the performance of the original snowmobile.

The Wisconsin team had finished last and next-to-last in its previous two appearances at the national snowmobile competition, largely due to poor engine performances. Team members did extensive testing this year to improve on their performance this year. But national champions?

The UW-Madison Clean Snowmobile is taken out for a run at Tyrol
                        Basin near Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

The UW-Madison Clean Snowmobile is taken out for a run at Tyrol Basin near Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, where the snowmobile team did much of its testing. (large image)

"We figured we would do a lot better," said team leader Eric Schroeder, a fifth-year senior majoring in engineering mechanics. "We were real excited to win."

The Wisconsin snowmobile team was the only one to complete or pass the three major competition tests — one for beating the clean emissions standard, another for running quieter than a standard snowmobile, and a final 100-mile endurance race. The team also won a first-place award in the subcategory of best-designed snowmobile.

But team members and advisor Glenn Bower, faculty associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the key to the team's success this year was the development of a novel hybrid engine that used both traditional gasoline-powered components and an electric motor borrowed from a golf cart. Team members say it's the first time a hybrid engine has been utilized in the snowmobile competition, and it proved to be more reliable and cleaner than traditional snowmobile engines. Snowmobile team members relied on advice from members of the university's national champion FutureTruck team, which has utilized hybrid engine technology.

The UW-Madison Clean Snowmobile awaits competing against 17 other
                        teams from around the country in Houghton, Michigan.

The UW-Madison Clean Snowmobile awaits competing against 17 other teams from around the country in Houghton, Michigan. (large image)

"This was a completely new design," Schroeder said. "It was something of a long shot. But we think this is the world's first hybrid snowmobile."

Not only did the Wisconsin snowmobile run cleaner and quieter, it also avoided the fate of the team's previous sleds. And it performed up to the expectations of snowmobile riders — quick and powerful.

"We didn't have a single failure," Schroeder said. "It was better than we ever could have hoped for.

"We didn't want to make something that no one would want to ride. That was our whole goal — to make a sled that we ourselves would want to ride."

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3/29/2004