Last year, in the Shell Eco-Marathon competition in Houston, a team from Duke University took second place.

This year, they hope to better their showing in the global competition where students design, build and test energy-efficient vehicles. The goal: To travel the farthest distance using the least amount of energy.

The especially galling part?

“We always lose to this team called Mater Dei, a high school,” said Duke junior Charlie Kritzmacher.

Kritzmacher, a mechanical engineering major, is leading a team of about 30 students in this year’s competition. They’ll head to Detroit next month with a newly designed car.

They’ve molded a fully carbon-fiber body. The entire battery-powered car will weigh just over 50 pounds.

“We focus on aerodynamics, rolling resistance and energy usage of the electronics system on board,” Kritzmacher said.

The team is hoping that a lighter car means a faster ride.

Sophomore Caroline Ayanian will drive for Duke.

“It’s a race car. It’s like driving a go-cart,” she said. “It is fun to have that much control over a car like that.”

The students enjoy both the fun and the challenge. They say it prepares them for life after college.

“(There is) a lot of good theoretical knowledge going on the classroom, but in terms hands-on learning, this is a really rare opportunity,” said junior Anny Ning.

The Shell Eco-Marathon starts April 9 in Detroit. The prize for the winning team is $2,000.