A-C’s supermileage students are making a name for themselves at competitions all over the world

Published 3:51 pm Monday, February 28, 2022

By Kelly Wassenberg

ALDEN — They may appear to be the underdog, but don’t let the Alden-Conger Supermileage Team fool you. The team has continued to place both nationally and internationally against college teams with much deeper pockets and the benefit of having automotive classes built into their school day. 

So what’s the secret behind their continued success? A strong foundation, a lot of ingenuity, a refusal to quit, the support of their community and sometimes a healthy dose of sibling rivalry. 

“There are a lot of big universities that have big budgets, and we depend on volunteers and contributions,” adviser James Sorensen said. “We’re very privileged. We’ve been blessed.”

The privilege of being able to compete at such a high level has been earned. Alden-Conger guidance counselor Amy Wallin is also an adviser for the team. She has been thoroughly impressed with how the team doesn’t seem to blink at the thought of going up against competition who are much older than they are, as well as their tremendous work ethic.

“The one thing I see consistently with this team is they don’t quit. They play until the whistle blows. It doesn’t matter what the score is,” Amy Wallin said, noting the team is often the first to show up at events and the last to leave.

Her husband, Mark Wallin, who also works with the team, echoed her sentiments, adding that not even a blown engine could deter them from overcoming setbacks. They just pulled parts off another car that had finished its six runs, the minimum number of runs to qualify, and got the car back out on the track. While they weren’t able to get in all six runs to qualify, Caleb Sorensen still had the best run in the class, getting 283.1 miles per gallon with their E85 car at the state competition in Brainerd last May. 

The team also took home first place in the electric car, with a six-run average of 5.82 watt hours per mile and best watt hours per mile run of 5.25; Ryan Wallin was the driver in the stock car division race with an average of 540.85 mpg during six runs and the best overall run for nonelectric cars in the competition with 619.93 mpg; and the team’s urban concept vehicle ranked first with a best run of the class with 372.75 mpg and a six-run average of 341.28 miles per gallon. Both Caleb Sorensen and Ryan Wallin, who graduated last year, drove the stock car during the competition.

Caleb Sorensen, now a senior, admits that while he wants the program to succeed long after he’s gone, a lot of his drive for the competition comes from one-upping his older brothers who were in the program before him. 

“Being the youngest, you want to do better than all of them and beat their records,” Caleb Sorensen said of his three older brothers. 

Sophomore Will Jacobs feels the same way. He started the program in seventh grade and looks forward to being able to drive this year. When he gets in the cockpit, his older brother won’t be too far away. Sam Jacobs, a 2018 graduate of Alden-Conger and former supermileage team member, returned to aid the team in an advisory role in 2020. 

Caleb Sorensen feels the younger Jacobs brother will be a great asset to the team. Not only is Will Jacobs a jack of all trades, Caleb Sorensen said his size gives them an advantage. He has the ability to climb into places others can’t reach to make adjustments before his teammates drag him back out of the car by his feet. Since he’s now a licensed driver, Will Jacobs can now spend time behind the wheel. 

The first phase of a competition starts with a technical inspection, which includes the weight of the car and driver. Alden-Conger’s team has had to consistently add weight to their cars to meet the minimum weight requirements. 

“They really focus on making everything an even playing field,” Caleb Sorensen said. “So then it’s a driver’s game and a motor game at that point.”

The boys bring more than tenacity and perseverance to their competitions, though. 

According to Amy Wallin, they also bring a slice of Minnesota nice with them. The team has gained the respect of their competition by helping other teams who need parts, advice or even an extra set of hands so they can get their car back on the track.

“Texas Tech was a big one,” Caleb Sorensen noted. “They had just started their supermileage program, and we talked to them for a long time. They’re really cool guys. They just started this at their college, which is a big deal, and they were figuring out how to do it.”

In this situation, the school’s resources seemed to be more of a determent. 

“They tried to make things super complicated and had a lot of computers and those computers ended up failing.”

Considering the competitions sometimes go down to the wire, the seconds it takes for them to help another team could cost them everything, but that’s just who they are. They want to win because they deserve it, not because someone else’s part fails. 

They also understand how they can learn from others they teach. 

“When we’re helping other people, we see different cars, and we get different ideas for what we want to do because if we do things the same way, we’re never going to change.”

And the teams they’ve helped along the way don’t take their assistance for granted. 

“It’s really cool to see when we get into the final race and all those teams that we’ve helped are in the stands cheering for us.”

 

Upcoming events

April 10-13: Shell Eco Marathon Americas Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana

May 8-10: Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association’s Supermileage Challenge in Brainerd

 

Alden-Conger Supermileage Team Highlights

1992

The first Alden-Conger Supermileage car is built

2000

Dave Bosma takes over as the team’s adviser

2011

The team starts to compete at the Shell Eco Marathon in Houston. The team brought as many as four cars to each competition and wins several trophies, including a safety award.

2015

The Shell Eco Marathon was moved to Detroit, where the team received the Vehicle Design Award and continued to place in other categories.

2016

After taking first place with its All-American Urban Concept Car, the Alden-Conger Supermileage team was invited to the Drivers’ World Championship in London. The team finished third behind university teams from Indonesia and France.

2017

James Sorensen and Amy Wallin take over as advisers for the group, who continued to have success despite the change in leadership and team members. The group’s All-American car placed first in the diesel category and second overall in the internal combustion engine category. The placement earned the team a spot in the Driver’s World Championship competition in Detroit, where the team earned another trip to London. The event was rained out and placements were decided on the best qualifying times. Alden-Conger was in the top three, earning the team a trip to Maranello, Italy. The team met with designers and engineers from Ferrari and had the opportunity to drive on the Fiorano Track, a private racetrack owned by the company.

2018

The team traveled to Sonoma, California, for the Shell Eco Marathon. The team’s urban concept diesel car placed fifth in the internal combustion engine category, and its prototype car finished ninth in the same category. The prototype car was also the top finisher with an ethanol fuel source. 

2019

The team took third place in the internal combustion engine category with their urban concept diesel vehicle at the Shell Eco Marathon. The win earned the team another trip to the Drivers’ World Championship in London. The car finished sixth at the Eco Marathon Europe competition in Weybridge, England, but the team didn’t qualify for world finals. 

2020

All competitions were canceled due to COVID.

2021

While Shell did not have a competition due to the continuing COVID pandemic, the team did compete at the state competition at Brainerd International Raceway and brought home three trophies.