2,000 miles on one gallon of petrol

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For a government which purports to be keen on green transport it is a dream come true: a car that can do more than 2,000 miles to the gallon.

Transport minister - and former secondhand car dealer - Steven Norris yesterday cast his expert eye over a tiny green three-wheeler (pictured above), one of 100 vehicles aiming to beat the the world record for travel on a gallon of fuel.

The competition, on 19 July at Mallory Park in Leicester, has attracted participants from all over the world, including a team from Japan which won the event last year. Many of the entries are from schools and colleges, such as the little green car which was produced by pupils at the Belfairs Community College, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and manages 2,106 miles per gallon.

Clearly impressed, Mr Norris said the children were getting "an early and valuable lesson" in fuel efficiency.

But their effort is dwarfed by the current world record sent by a French team four years ago: 7,591 miles or the equivalent of driving across the North American continent on one gallon of petrol.

Britain's best hope at the Shell Helix Mileage Marathon will be Brian Toft, of Chester, who believes his team and its diesel vehicle can go one better than the French. "We are just over 1,000mpg behind, but we can make it up," Mr Toft said.

However, at the moment his challenge suffers from one small drawback. "We are currently driverless - we need someone weighing around seven stone who has the appearance of a jockey" - and can drive.

The organisers, Shell, believe that one day soon a vehicle will be able to achieve the Holy Grail of efficiency - 10,000 miles per gallon.

Photograph: Jane Baker