The ladies behind the wheel

| Michaela Nesvarova

The Shell Eco Marathon (SEM) is starting tomorrow in London. The entire Green Team Twente has spent a year preparing for it, yet now their hydrogen car Aurora One is mainly in the hands of Nienke van der Werf and Isabel Koopman, the team’s two drivers.

Photo by: Niek Erents Photography

Even though it certainly ‘takes a village’ to even get to the SEM’s race track, in the end it’s the driver who takes the car over the finish line and sets the final score. Nienke van der Werf is the primary driver, while her colleague Isabel Koopman will be ready to step in for her if necessary. We asked them both: What does it take to be the one behind the wheel of Aurora One?


Nienke van der Werf (21)

Studies: Applied Physics student at Saxion, soon-to-be pre-master student at the UT

Position on the team: Chief Drivetrain & Driving Strategist

What is it like to drive Aurora One?  

‘It’s hot! Being inside the car is extremely warm. Plus it’s hard to see everything around you, because you are not sitting up straight and the car has no mirrors on the side. The most difficult part is to listen to the car and to anticipate what needs to be done, but otherwise driving Aurora One is not that hard. It’s almost like driving a cart. Only thing that worries me is rain. If the track gets wet, the car could spin around and we could crash very easily.’

How do you feel about driving in the SEM?

‘I’m very excited for the SEM, but of course also a little afraid. It has taken so much time and resources to build the car. It does feel like a lot of responsibility, but on the other hand I know the car really well. I can recognize all its sounds and react to them. I’m also in charge of the driving strategy, meaning a strategy on how to drive in the most efficient way – how to cut the corners, when to accelerate, when to brake. It’s not about driving as fast as you can. The strategy is very important, it’s certainly a team effort.’ 

What would you bet will be the Green Team’s result at the SEM?

‘900 km/l.’


Isabel Koopman (19)

Studies: University College Twente

Position on the team: External Relations

What is it like to drive Aurora One? 

‘It’s like an oven in there. It can get a little claustrophobic, because you can hardly move. When I first got behind the wheel, I thought “Oh my, this is crazy. I’m going to die!” But once you get a little used to it, it’s so much fun! The car can go a maximum of 40 km/h, but it feels so much faster when you are so close to the ground. It’s totally different from driving a usual car. You have to operate everything through the steering wheel and you don’t have to switch gears.’

How do you feel about driving in the SEM?

‘Because of the weight and height limits, we got lucky enough to drive the car. We are definitely lucky! For me, going into the SEM is exciting, not scary. It’s just a brilliant thing: the idea that you’ve built something with your team and now you get to drive it. And it drives on hydrogen!’

What would you bet will be the Green Team’s result at the SEM?

‘1000 km/l.’

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