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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 12:49 am

Illuminati gears up for first Automotive X PRIZE event

Series begins in April, winners announced in September

It’s a race against time for Illuminati Motor Works, who in less than three months will introduce Seven to the world.

The Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, a $10 million competition that seeks to produce a new generation of fast, inexpensive, super “green” cars, recently announced that the first in a series of scored on-track performances and evaluations will be held April 26 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

Illuminati Motor Works, a Springfield-area group of engineers, automotive technicians and car enthusiasts that started working on their pure-electric entry in a Divernon garage in August 2007 [see “Eyes on the prize,” March 27, 2008], will join 41 other teams from around the world to test the efficiency, safety and performance of their vehicles under real-world conditions. These teams moved on from a pool of 111 after proving to automotive and technical experts during the design judging phase that their vehicles get more than 100 miles per gallon or its energy equivalent, have a 200-mile range and accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 15 seconds.

Kevin Smith, Illuminati’s team captain, says that while he liked the Automotive X PRIZE’s original plan for a cross-country race, its logistics would be a “nightmare” for both American and international teams.

“Michigan is a real convenient location for our team, which helps a lot with the timing of getting to and from events and working our day jobs,” Smith tells Illinois Times. “Even a small help like location is a big help for a small team.”

In the shakedown stage, from April 26 to May 7, Illuminati Motor Works will subject its vehicle to on-track safety inspections and evaluations. Braking speed, lane change ability, acceleration and refueling and recharging time will be tested, in order to “shake out” problems before the competition’s final stages.

This first event, Smith says, gives teams road time under real conditions to identify areas of their vehicles that need more attention, helping to avoid any surprises that could cost them the win in the final event.

“Even if your car is running perfectly,” he explains, “it’s still a one-off vehicle that you personally just made or put together…leaving many possible areas for something to shake loose.”

The knockout qualifying stage, in which officials will conduct real inspections and whittle down contestants, begins June 20 at the speedway. Illuminati and the other teams will be asked to show that their vehicles can achieve at least two-thirds of the 100 MPGe goal, as well as meet the competition’s range and emissions requirements.

The finals stage, to be held July 19-30, will identify the top seeds in the mainstream and alternative classes, but winners won’t be announced until September, after their technical performance results are verified at labs in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chicago.

Illuminati Motor Works started up Seven for the first time on Dec. 15, and in the past few weeks has finished making adjustments to the body and doors. The team recently began creating the car’s body panels and will soon apply its outer skin.

“I’ve come to realize more with each passing day that no one person could accomplish the task set before us,” Smith says. “The sense of the impending race can be felt now daily in the shop and seen in the number of hours being worked to accomplish our goal.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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