In my last blog post, I wrote about my latest acquisition; a prototype carbon fiber-bodied endurance racer designed to be as efficient as possible. I call it the “Eco Racer” because of it’s resemblance to cars built for the Shell Eco Marathon. However, the full origin of this vehicle was a mystery. The previous owner could not recall exactly where it might have raced. Instead, I had a narrow time frame for when the machine was built, and the the university that built it: Osaka Sangyo University. Thus, my search for the full origin of this vehicle began. Now, I am extremely proud to say “Mystery Solved!”
The Start of the Mystery
When I brought the racer home, I went to get as much information from the previous owner as possible. I wanted to see if I could get some more details regarding who built the car and when. I hoped that I could at least have a few names that could lead me in the right direction. Unfortunately the seller didn’t have much more to give me than the following information:
- The “Eco Racer” was built by Osaka Sangyo University in Japan.
- The seller’s sister-in-law (a Stanford-trained mathematician) helped build it.
- The vehicle was supposedly built in the Summer of 2009, and raced for a special inter-university competition for electric vehicles.
- The vehicle was kept for years before it was retired and then sent to sister-in-law. This was likely done as a sign of gratitude.
- She ended up giving the vehicle to her brother-in-law to tinker with before he decided to sell it.
So, I had a several clues to find out the origin of the Eco Racer. However, it could still take a long time to narrow down where this thing came from. So, I had to make several theories and educated guesses. I hoped I could easily find this information because of how unique this vehicle was. But, I learned that this was just the start of the journey!
Origin Theory #1: A Shell Eco Marathon Racer
Earlier I had mentioned the Shell Eco Marathon and how the Eco Racer closely resembled those vehicles. So I began my search through history of the Marathon cross-referencing what I knew about the Eco Racer. I found several races where the car could have raced. But, the best candidate was the Shell Eco Marathon held in Malaysia.
The Shell Eco Marathon Asia has been held in Singapore for the last 10 years. Also, the race features racer designs similar to the Eco Racer. I thought that because the this is an international event, Osaka Sangyo University could have participated. However, my search turned up nothing regarding the university or the Eco Marathon. There are also several discrepancies I found with the design of the car and the other racers:
- All of the racers participating the marathon were non-electric, fuel-powered vehicles. The Eco Racer on the other hand is completely electric.
- The majority of the racers built for the marathon had a tubular space frame chassis. However, the Eco Racer has a honeycomb and carbon fiber monocoque.
- There was no record of Osaka Sangyo University participating in the Shell Eco Marathon.
- I was also told the car only raced in Japan. The Shell Eco Marathon Asia however has always been held in Singapore.
Based on this new information, I decided to put this theory to bed and move on.
Origin Theory #2: An electric endurance racer for Greenpower UK
Using what I knew about the car, I decided to look at endurance racing series specifically for electric vehicles. This is how I found out about Greenpower UK. Greenpower is an educational trust and charity that sponsors electric race events for schools in the UK, and name licensing to events in the USA, China, India, Malaysia, and Poland. Every year they hold races for electric kit cars built by different schools with the goal to get students excited about STEM, sustainable technologies, and racing.
However, it became clear that the Eco Racer was not built for this racing series for the following reasons:
- All of the racers built to participate in this series have open-top cockpits. However, the Eco Racer has a fully enclosed cockpit. The construction of the cars also vastly differ from the construction of the Eco Racer.
- The majority of the schools participating in this event are public schools; not universities like Osaka Sangyo University.
- Events are mostly held in the UK, and none are hosted in Japan. If the car only raced in Japan then it wouldn’t have raced with this series.
Once again, I had to revise my theory and move on. This time, I decided to go in a slightly different direction.
Origin Theory #3: A joint venture between Osaka Sangyo University and Stanford University
Because the car was claimed to have been built with the help of a Stanford Student, I theorized that this car might have been a joint venture with Osaka Sangyo University and raced between Japan and the USA for electric car endurance events. Also, the presence of some professional decals from Stanford University on the vehicle suggested that this thing could have raced for Stanford too. So I set out to search for electric endurance events where Stanford and Osaka Sangyo could have raced. The two series I found where the Electrathon America Series, and the SAE Supermileage Series.
Electrathon America is a competition series where teams can build three or four-wheeled cars powered by commercially available battery packs. Thanks to it’s low cost of entry and use of commercially available parts, schools across the country could compete in this series. There were a few problems though with this part of the theory though:
- The majority of the participants in this series are from High School STEM programs, and although there are enclosed racers similar to the Eco Racer, the Eco Racer is more sophisticated in its construction.
- There was no record of Osaka Sangyo or Stanford University participating in this event, which is held all across America.
This left the SAE Supermileage competition as the likeliest candidate. The Society of Automotive Engineers’ Supermileage competition is an engineering design competition for undergraduate and graduate students for building high-efficiency endurance vehicles. Stanford University and Osaka Sangyo University both have top-shelf transportation engineering programs, so it wasn’t far outside the scope of imagination that both universities could field a car in this competition. The construction of the cars also closely resemble the construction of the Eco Racer, so I was sure I was close to finally cracking the mystery wide open!
However, after some digging it became apparent that there were also too many discrepancies for the Eco Racer to have competed in this series:
- While the construction of the vehicles were very similar to the Eco Racer, the powertrain rules for the competition stated that only a Briggs and Stratton Junior 206 motor could be used. This ruled out the electric powertrain the Eco Racer uses.
- There is no record of Stanford racing in this event. After cross referencing this information, I also found that Osaka Sangyo University didn’t participate in this event despite the fact that the event is sponsored by SAE International.
- Again, I was told that the vehicle only raced in Japan. I couldn’t find any records stating that the SAE Supermileage Compeition was held in Japan.
In the end, the presence of the Stanford decals ended up being a bit of red herring. It was likely that they were added after the previous owners took possession of the vehicle. Disappointed, I decided to start my search from scratch focusing on electric endurance racing events in Japan.
Origin Theory #4: An Electric Racer built for the Supermileage Car Challenge Hiroshima
After refocusing my search for Japan-Only events, I managed to find an interesting event called the Supermileage Car Challenge Hiroshima. After doing some more digging, I managed to find the website for the Fancy Carol Race Team and their history competing in this event. Using this newfound information, I searched for images and videos of the event from the different years Fancy Carol competed in the event. I had hoped that I could catch a glimpse of something that would eventually lead me to the true origin of the Eco Racer.
The event seemed to check all the boxes for the story of the Eco Racer. The Supermileage Car Challenge Hiroshima is a yearly event held in Hiroshima where different colleges and technical schools build high-efficiency endurance racers and compete against one another on a closed course. The event history also puts it on a similar timeline to the supposed build date of the Eco Racer, so it could have competed in this event. At one point, I had even found an incredibly similar car to the Eco Racer and had believed it to be some sister car because of how close the designs were! However, this proved to be another dead end for the following reasons:
- There was no record of Osaka Sangyo University competing in this event.
- The majority cars racing in this event were combustion engine-powered.
- Of all the electric vehicles in the event, none of them resembled the Eco Racer closely enough to warrant further research.
Frustrated and tired, I decided to rethink my approach and try to rest for a bit. It seemed that the farther down the rabbit hole I went, the more I was learning what the car wasn’t as opposed to what it actually was. However, I could literally feel how close I was to finding out the truth of the Eco Racer. I even told my mentor how close I felt to finding the answer, to which he told me “Keep trying.” As tired and as frustrated as I was, I was no where near close to giving up. My gut was telling me I was about to make a breakthrough. Sometimes, you’ve just got to listen to your gut, because I did in fact make that breakthrough immediately after!
I decided to expand my search to look for supermileage-style cars in Japan and was looking through Google’s Image search, when I came across a similar looking car and a link that read “Ene-1 GP”. Curious, I decided to look further into the Ene-1 GP. As it turns out, the Ene-1 GP is a special race sponsored by Panasonic held at both Twin Ring Motegi and the legendary Suzuka circuit in Japan which features electric endurance vehicles! In addition to this, all of the teams that compete in the event are from Japanese Colleges, Technical Schools, and public schools. Lastly, the inaugural race at the Suzuka circuit was in 2011, which would have placed this event just after the car would have been built.
Emboldened by this new information, I decided to cross-reference what I found with a query that included “Ene-1 GP” and “Osaka Sangyo University” through Google Images. That’s when I found this image:
My heart stopped as I looked over the image. Right there on the left is a very familiar-looking bullet surrounded by happy faces and “OSU” in large letters in the banner they were holding behind it. Was THIS the car? I decided to translate the article that the image was attached to, and found references to the “KV-1” class at the Ene-1 GP and an interview with the driver that drove the vehicle. Also. the article itself was from Osaka Sangyo University’s own news network, so I decided to cross-reference this information one more time with a search query that included the racing class. Finally, I found what I was looking for!
This is a special commemorative newsletter from Osaka Sangyo University celebrating their participation in the 2015 Ene-1 GP and their “New Energy Vehicle” project. And featured right there on the cover was my car! I finally found evidence of the car racing in a special series in Japan just like the previous owner said!
I dug a little deeper hoping to find more evidence of the car in the Ene-1 GP, and found several references from 2013, 2015, and 2017! In fact, the car makes several background appearances in this narrative video about the 2017 Ene-GP! at 07:48 and 08:20!:
The holy grail however was placing the vehicle at the very first Ene-1 GP in 2011. I couldn’t find any resources that definitively stated that this vehicle took place in that race. However, I did find this video on a blog in Rakuten taken during the commemorative photo session at the first tournament. On the thumbnail of the video, you can actually see a very similar looking car on the far left of the paddock at Suzuka!
Still, I had to absolutely be sure that the vehicle was the same exact vehicle I now own. I needed a picture of the inside of the cabin so I match details. After digging some more, I found a news article with this picture attached:
This picture is the final piece to the puzzle. Not only does it clearly show the canopy design details of the car, but the controls and internal mechanics of the car are clearly visible. They are exactly the same as the controls on my car! This is it, the mystery has finally been solved! What I have in my possession is an electric prototype race car designed by Osaka Sangyo University, with a racing pedigree!
A New Chapter…and more questions
Now that I have solved the mystery of the origin of this car and where it raced, I can finally focus on getting it road-worthy again in anticipation for this year’s events! My hope is to restore this car back to its condition when it last raced in 2017. However, there are a few unanswered questions about the history of this vehicle:
- Where was the car kept when it wasn’t raced? There might be more documentation somewhere out there if the car was fielded for 6 whole years.
- Was this car used to promote the university? Where else could have this car been shown?
- Are there still people at the university who might remember this vehicle? If so, how do I reach out to them?
I decided to see if I can reach out to instructors at Osaka Sangyo University and see if anyone might remember this car and could tell me more about it. I found the contact information of one of the professors in the Advanced Vehicle Design Lab and sent an email to him with a link to the first article I wrote about the car, several pictures, and the newsletter with the car on the cover. If I could get further confirmation of the history of the car with a first-hand account of the car’s race history, then I would be extremely happy! Plus, this would be a great story for Osaka Sangyo University. I can imagine the newsletter staff getting really excited to learn that one of the University’s prototype electric cars is still functioning in the USA!
But for now, I’ll wait and see what the final word is. I am incredibly happy to finally learn the history of this car, and I hope that I can add to the living history of this machine!
- New Energy Vehicle Project Wins “2017 Ene-1GP SUZUKA” Class! – Osaka-Sandai News (Translated from Google):
- 2nd overall in the solar car project Achieved 6 consecutive wins in the dream class! New Energy Vehicle Project Class Winner! – Osaka-Sandai News (Translated from Google):
- Ene-1 GP – Wikipedia (Translated from Google):
- The 1st meeting Suzuka サーキット collection photo の commemorative photo shooting scenery [2011 Ene-1 GP SUZUKA] 11 – YouTube (Translted from Google)
- Brennie Giken of Advanced Epoxy Development–Chief, call us! – Rakuten (Translated from Google)
- Solar Car Project Special Commemorative Issue – Osaka Sangyo University Newsletter
- The 2017 Ene-1 GP SUZUKA – Japan International Broadcasting Inc.
- 22 laps of Motegi with 40 rechargeable Evolta … Ene-1 GP MOTEGI held – Response Automotive Media
- OSU ADVANCED VEHICLE LABORATORY