The little engine that could… did!

By Nicole McPhee

Canadians know the best toboggans are made of plastic, wood, or may be improvised using an old inner tube.

Last week in Winnipeg, teams of civil engineers demonstrated new levels of innovation as they raced and displayed toboggans made of concrete for top honours in the 27th annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race.

After a hard weekend of competing and partying, the University of Calgary Locomotion GNCTR team returned with a $2,000 award for Excellence in Engineering and the best technical exhibit award.

"We won the only cash reward so that’s nice, and [the money] will be donated to the undergrads," said fourth-year Engineering student and Locomotion team member Jason Sharpe.

The GNCTR was conceived in 1974 by engineering professors and students at the U of C and the University of Alberta. The first race took place in 1975 and is held every year in a Canadian province, alternating between west and east. Nineteen teams competed in the GNCTR 2002, representing Canadian universities and technical institutions and one team from the University of Colorado.

The toboggans were judged on technical reports and technical exhibits before the race on Sat., Feb. 2. On race day, teams were judged on speed, braking distance and most spectacular run. The University of Waterloo Doozers finished first overall and took home best mix design, best technical report, fastest time, and second fastest speed at 57 km/h. The University of Alberta Bandidos finished second overall, with the fastest speed of
58 km/h and awards for best costumes and best toboggan aesthetics.

"[The Bandidos] did an awesome job," said Sharpe. "They did well overall on race day, they had good steering, and the race day is weighted more than anything else."

"We thought it was a bit of a farce that Waterloo won," added fourth-year U of C engineering student Ally Dewji. "Their sled was good but their braking wasn’t very good at all."

The 32-member U of C team consisted of third and fourth-year civil engineering students who made some changes to the standard U of C toboggan design for the 2002 competition with mixed results.

"We’ve had a very similar design at the U of C for the last few years because that’s been really fast, " explained Sharpe, a two-year veteran of the GNCTR. "But [this year] we put a whole new braking system on it and we didn’t have a big scoop on the front end of it, so we turned sideways when we were going down the hill."

Teams are permitted creativity in the toboggan and costume design, but must follow certain rules. The sleds must have a running surface with a minimum of 50 per cent concrete, a braking system and a rollover bar. They may not weigh more than 136.4 kg, must seat a maximum of five people and as a safety precaution and may not be enclosed.

Due to post-race celebrations, details on the overall results of the U of C team are sketchy. Sharpe, however, noted the U of C team did not survive the contest unscathed.

"Five guys rode the sled the second time without their shirts on," he explained wryly. "The sled flipped over and rode over them for a while, so they got all scraped up pretty badly."

The Locomotion toboggan survived intact and will enjoy a peaceful retirement on a team member’s farm.


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