The Shell Fuel Economy Challenge burnt my Children's Day weekend. Which was in its own unique way, a pretty fun option to burn a weekend. Basically the challenge was a car rally with the ultimate aim of trying to get as much km as you can out of every litre of petrol.
There was a briefing for all participants at Raffles Marina the day before (30 September 2006). A new fuel was introduced to the crowd as being the fuel that was responsible for John and Helen Taylor's Guiness World Record Round the World Drive feat of 24 tanks refill. The Australian couple were also present to give out tips on economical driving. You marvel at how two people with some of the most ordinary names in the English language could achieve something so remarkable. Yes yes, one's names has no direct impact on how much one can achieve in life. However, compare John Taylor to say Christopher Columbus...or Marco Polo..or Cheng Ho...
For some obscure reason, Shell choose to air a video clip on the development of the new fuel. An act that was generally wasted on a crowd unable to appreciate the technicalities. A group of engineers would perhaps have been sent to orgasmic heaven rather than lulled to slumber.
Be prepared to wake up EARLY. Contestants were divided into 2 teams - yellow and red. Each colour had its own route. That is to say one team went clockwise, and the other anti-clockwise. Teams had to go for a tank fill at the Shell station along Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim at the freaking early hour of 8 in the morning before proceeding to Raffles Marina. Thankfully breakfast was provided. There was a pre-race brief (yes, another one) before teams could proceed to the registration booths to claim their first clue. At each pitstop, teams would be provided with a clue leading to the destination of the next stop. There were 8 stops in total, where teams would have their Shell passports stamped.
1st pitstop - Shell station at Upper Bukit Timah Road
My route was the yellow route, so my first pitstop was the Shell petrol station along Upper Bukit Timah. It's the one near Gombak Drive and Cashew Road, NOT the Shell stations near the Bukit Timah stretch where Lana cake is. Strangely, the cheery and friendly Shell staff were obviously unprepared to handle the number of cars that drove up. So unprepared that the staff at the pitstop itself were still discussing who should stamp the passport and who should give out the clues when I drove up. Flustered, they even told me to go off BEFORE issuing me my next clue. =p
2nd pitstop - Singapore Zoological Gardens
Teams were issued with a set of questions and a zoo pass. The answers could be found in the Australian Outback section of the zoo. Upon completion of the task, teams will be given their next clue. I havent stepped into the Zoo since Primary School days. And it has CHANGED a lot since then. I dont mind spending the new few weekends exploring it. Anyways, while on the way out, one uncle spotted the lot of us running madly and wished us good luck. (so sweet... =D) We heard him muttering to his companions, 'Shell Petrol Challenge'.
3rd pitstop - Shell station at Mandai Road
Nothing eventful other than having to drive in and getting the passport stamped. They say you learn something new everyday. I learned that there was a Shell station at this ulu stretch of the Singapore. =)
4th pitstop - Shell station at Upper Changi Road
This pitstop is along the same side of the road as Jalan Tiga Ratus.
5th pitstop - Golden Mile Building
This was a killer that made you wish for a fast forward option. Again, teams were issued with a set of questions which they had to answer. The difficult part was having to decipher the Thai words. Upon completion of the questions, teams will receive the clue to their next destination.
6th pitstop - Shell station at Havelock Road
The usual drive in, get passport stamped, drive off after waving madly at everyone present.
7th pitstop - Singapore Discovery Centre
Definitely the most fun part. If you survive the long walk to the heart of the Centre without looking like a bunch of country mice. I havent been to the Discovery Centre since well, Primary School days I think. You get to shoot at a bunch of balloons, from a manly distance of say err 7, 10, 12 metres (Am not a good judge of distance...walking from Wisma to CentrePoint is near, walking from my desk to cabinet in cubicle is far...Distance can be relative ala Theory of Relativity). The highlight of it is you get the shoot at the balloons using a M-16 mock gun. Cool! I loved loved loved it.
8th and final pitstop - Back to Shell station at Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim
Back to Shell station at Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim to refill tank, calculate mileague etc. Teams then head towards Raffles Marina to check in for fun, food and AIRCON. Last team to check in WILL NOT be eliminated. You also hand in your Shell passport for checking there.
Useful points to note:
1. Shell has been organising this challenge since 2003. Funnily, the staff on hand seemed confused and misled teams on where they could claim their first clue. This confusion was replicated along the whole race, so for future teams, if you are sure about your instructions, proceed with your instincts. Sometimes the herd is wrong.
2. Always read instructions carefully. For the tasks at the Zoo and Golden Mile Building, one only had to get 4 questions correct, so you could actually save time by skipping questions like how many kangeroos were there and having to count the kangeroos. Not very difficult to count kangeroos. The difficult part is that the kangeroos can jump!
3. Ask when unsure...it saves you loads of time. The police are really useful for this. (good to note for future car rallies)
4. The difficult clues are not really that difficult. On a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the most difficult Sudoku problem, it is 1. Even -2.
5. Check out the location of all Shell stations before hand. Focus on locations off the beaten track.
6. Ask yourself why are you taking part in the challenge. If you really wish to test how far per litre of fuel can take you, take it seriously. Empty your car of all excess baggage...this includes car mats and all useless barang in the glove compartment. While on the race, watch your rev and do not ever ever turn on the aircon, radio. Neither should you wind down the windows (wind drag). When this happens, it gets hot in the car. Be prepared for it. Bring a paper fan.
7. If you just wish to enjoy the car rally, then turn on your aircon/radio and leave your car as it is. There is no need to suffer the humidity and heat of sunny Singapore if you dont have to.
8. There is sufficient time to complete all the tasks and ALWAYS hold on to your Shell Passport. This means there is no need to run at the stops. However, it would be wise to have just one person in charge of holding on to the passport. Amidst all the envelopes, paper and heat, losing that small booklet is HIGHLY possible.
9. Wear comfortable shoes. It is not wise, nor recommended to wear 3' boots and run; even if it looks cool to wear 3' boots. Your feet, calves, ankles, shins protest loudly. The consequences are still felt many days later.
10. There is really no need to crawl on the road. You can get a ticket for going too slowly. My colleague was bemoaning how he got stuck on an expressway behind a car plastered with Shell Fuel Economy Challenge stickers, travelling at 60km/h.
I had great fun..and many lovely memories. Aloof Singaporeans who never so much smile at you at traffic lights, would wave happily to fellow contestants like long lost friends when they pass you on the road. The more helpful ones tell you where the pitstops are located. Some loan you their pens to write down your answers.
It was obvious that a lot of effort had gone into this and it was also obvious that contestants appreciate the effort. While it was not German clockwork perfect, the friendliness of the Shell staff was heart warming.
Shell even had a category for their staff, and the prizes were nothing to sniff at. The winner of the Shell Staff category clocked 25km per litre of petrol, which was pretty amazing.
Then Shell undid everything when they announced the results of the open category. They made a mockery of their own challenge and insulted all participants by allowing the results to stand. The grand prize winner clocked an astonishing and unbelievable 183 km per litre of petrol. For cars under 2 litres, the top three winners managed more than 80 km per litre of petrol. There were angry rumblings amongst the participants. Shell even emailed a letter to all participants the next day trying to pacify teams. But to me, the damage was done. It was a public relations disaster.
Now we know that there are at least 4 teams in Singapore who would be able to break the galatic record for fuel economy. =P