My favorite underdog
At the Shell's eco-marathon each car is an aerodynamic work of art
Kuala Lumpur's Sepang racing circuit smells like gasoline and banana trees. In the pit lane engines reassuringly pur to life, tools are thrown like cricket balls and The Foofighters blast from an invisible sound system. There are 81 cars in the pit for Shell's eco-marathon -- a contest where students have been challenged to design and create fuel efficient vehicles.
Each car is an aerodynamic work of art, testament to the human need to advance. As poetic justice would have it the question is not one of how far you can go but how to get there.
The twenty teams from Pakistan here are simultaneously the favorites and the underdogs. With both prototype (think Star Wars) and urban concept (think really fancy bumper cars) vehicles, sheer numbers make it likely they will win at least win one category according to the marathon 'experts' who have been managing the competition for years. No other country has as many particpants. Pakistan's entries include the country's first car fuelled by hydrogen and solar power and first super capacitor engine.
"Will you win?" I ask each participant I come across. So far "We don't care!" is the reply I have received. They have built for the pleasure of creation. They wanted to make something that was never there before - and they have. The future is out there and these student want a piece.
It is this spirit of joy for discovery and desire to contribute to a sustainable lifestyle that has united participants. With hours to go until the races begin there is a spirit of cooperation not competion in the pit.Pakistan's team Synergy tells me that they fell short of equipment and went to a nearby lot to ask China 'our natural ally' for help. Instead it was an Indian team which rushed to their aid.
However, some contend that the playing field cannot ever truly be even. "Some of the competion has six sponsors while we only had three. Companies here do not understand." an NED faculty advisor tells me as the team's car goes through a safety test. The team is told that changes must be made and they have less than a day until the race. Not too worried the advisor assures me the car will be ready for the track in time. Nothing can stop them now.
It is not just gaps in infrastructure that participants feel are dragging them down. One of the participants described the experience of creating his car (named Kaar) like this:
"Manufacturing Kaar has proved to be an eye-opener for me. The assertion is simple. Every man...EVERY single person, whose services we employed, would go to any lengths to eke out those extra bucks that would put his earnings in the shadow of immorality he doesn't actually care about"
So, yes some Pakistani teams have less money and less sponsors. Some participants had to tutor their neighbours kids to afford the trip. Some cars are shabby in the face of the competition. But it is despite the glaring faults in our system that Pakistan has managed to become the favorite by being the underdog.