Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 12:45 UK

The race to save fuel: Day Two

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Tom Symonds on the race to find the most fuel-efficient driver.

By Tom Symonds
Transport correspondent, BBC News

Tom Symonds has been taking part in the MPG Marathon - a competition to find who can use least fuel over a 411 mile course.

Day Two of Britain's most sensible car race started in the Peak District - ahead lay 200 miles of motorways, country lanes and mountain passes.

It was a route designed to challenge the eco-friendly driving skills of the 80 competitors taking part.

The BBC was travelling with the AA's entry - co-driven by its president Edmund King, who believes more motorists are now willing to give this easy-does-it style of motoring a try, for financial and environmental reasons.

We arrived at the finish in Bristol and the organisers removed the seals placed on our fuel tank to prevent cheating.

The moment of truth. We had travelled 404 miles, used 25 litres (5.5 gallons) of diesel - and our total miles per gallon average? An impressive 73 mpg.

Fiat publishes what's called a combined mileage figure for this car - 68 miles to the gallon. Most normal motorists come nowhere near this figure so we are pleased to have exceeded it.

Before the race Tom Symonds is taught how to drive more efficiently.

We had been concentrating hard on being light of touch on brakes and accelerator. Keeping the car moving wherever possible and changing up through the gears as quickly as possible.

Eco-driving skills are now being assessed as part of the driving test, and increasingly taught to thousands of business drivers every year.

Fierce competition

But our 73 mpg may not be good enough. The results are still coming in but some of our rivals believe they might have managed more than 80 mpg - one team using less than two gallons of fuel to get from Bristol to the Peak District, at a total cost of about 10.

A former rally driver and Fuel Marathon champion - James Sutherland - has managed 83 mpg in previous events in his car, a perfectly normal, Toyota Aygo.

MPG MARATHON WINNERS
First place - Toyota Yaris 1.4 diesel - 84.66 mpg
Second place - Mazda 2 1.4 diesel - 84.58 mpg

The secret, he says, is to keep things nice and smooth.

Other tips include driving in socks - which can help you feel how much pressure you are putting on the pedal.

There are two prizes in this challenge - for the best overall fuel consumption, and the best improved consumption above the manufacturer's published figure.

The most difficult challenge has been the traffic jams. Get stuck in one and the last 10 miles of careful eco-driving are rendered useless as the mileage drops like a stone.

It has to be said that some of the jams have been encouraged by our fellow competitors, a few of whom have reduced their speed to eke out the fuel, regardless of the column of traffic behind.

Often though this has simply meant sticking to the speed limit, something many non-racers on the roads have been reluctant to do.

We've taken a more realistic approach - driving close to normal speeds. Which is probably why we haven't won.

In the end this sort of driving does require concentration. Of course everyone knows they should concentrate harder when behind the wheel. But usually the pressures of life, and shortages of time, get in the way.


SEE ALSO
Driving tips to cut fuel costs
08 Oct 08 |  Technology
Hydrogen refuel station unveiled
09 Jul 08 |  Technology
Can a petrolhead be an eco-driver?
11 Aug 08 |  Magazine
The race to save fuel
08 Oct 08 |  UK

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