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Jason Olson, Deseret News
BYU student Chin Leong Chiang, right, gets help from Jeff Holm, an Indy car engineer, on the hybrid race car engineering students designed and built.

PROVO — The blue-and-white hybrid zipped to the end of the parking lot and back, humming like a go-cart, then roaring like a motorcycle.

"The driving system feels great," driver Sean Cornwell told a fellow team member after sweeping through an orange cone course in BYU's first student-designed gas and battery hybrid racecar.

Cornwell and two other teammates will be racing the car next week in the Formula Hybrid Competition in New Hampshire.

What began last fall as a conceptual drawing has become the sleek Lithium Lightning capstone project of 13 mechanical and manufacturing engineering students who have poured nearly 8,000 hours of labor into wheels, engine, frame, steering and brakes.

This is BYU's second competitive race car but the first one using gas and electricity in a series-type system, said team captain Peter Ransom, a senior in manufacturing engineering technology.

Most hybrid cars use parallel systems, where the engine is connected to the wheels through a mechanical linkage, he explained.

But the Y.'s series system uses an electrical linkage to the wheels instead.

"You can get more power out of the series system," he said, "but the engineering is more difficult."

The series system also allows the team to run the car on electricity alone, gas alone or a full hybrid mix.

"It's a little bit like the space program," said Robert Todd, the capstone program director and professor of mechanical engineering. "You learn by doing what hasn't been done before. We do these kinds of things to give students a chance to innovate."

One of the big innovations is using experimental lithium polymer batteries, which along with the 250cc dirt bike engine, allow the car to reach 0 to 60 in just under 4 seconds and a top speed of nearly 80 mph.

"It's similar to a go-cart," Cornwell said, "a go-cart on steroids."

At the Formula Hybrid competition May 3-6 (www.formula-hybrid.org) in Loudon, NH., BYU will go up against teams from Dartmouth, Texas A&M and Yale as well as teams from Canada, Taiwan, Italy, India and Russia.

Each car must prove itself in an autocross race, a 13.7-mile endurance race and two acceleration races. The team is also judged on engineering design and a business plan.

Monday's test drive identified last-minute kinks the team must fix before they head east Tuesday.

"Keith, where are our tools?" one teammate called out as he jogged to the car after the first demo run.

The team juggled wrenches and air compressors, fixing wires, a sticky throttle and adding air to the shocks and tires.

Then they reattached the seven-pound carbon fiber frame emblazoned with the number 12 and a big Y and Cornwell sped off again.

"It's amazing to realize that even though a car is quite complex ... that we've gone from ideas to building a fully functioning car," Cornwell said. "I'm not afraid to touch anything on my own car now."