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To prepare for world contest, solar car team may sit out 2009 race

Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 7, 2008

The last car of the University’s Solar Car Team won the North American Solar Challenge this summer with a 10-hour lead over Principia College, so the next car has big expectations.

But whether the team will attempt to defend that title is unclear. The team could opt to sit out the 2009 cycle to finish preparing a car for a race in 2010.

Every two years, the team of students builds a new car to compete in two competitions — one in North America and one abroad.

Chito Garcia, the team's adviser and mentor, believes the team should pass on 2009 to send an experienced car to the North American Challenge in 2010. That, he said, would allow the team to send a road-tested car to the next World championships.

“(The World Solar Challenge) is usually a tough race,” said Garcia, adding that he hadn't yet expressed his concerns to the team. “In the past, we’d always run the U.S. first but now it’s changed. I would like to see it the other way around.”

College of Engineering senior Steven Hechtman, a member of the team’s Micro Electrical Division, said he sees both advantages and disadvantages to skipping the World Solar Challenge next summer.

“The main thing for Australia is it’s really nice to have a car that you’ve had a lot of testing on,” Hechtman said. “On the flip side, if you take a car to Australia that’s already been in a race, there’s a chance that some of your innovations may have been copied by other teams.”

Hectman said the team still plans to compete in 2009.

“Right now we’re really hoping we can get our car done early and test it a lot before the race,” Hechtman said.

The team is now designing the Infiniuum for the upcoming race in Australia. Durbin said the team is trying to find ways to improve the power losses of the previous car. Continuum, the last car, could charge while driving if it stayed under 50 miles per hour. The car could go a maximum of 87 miles per hour, but going that fast drained the battery too much, he said.

Hechtman said the designs for the next car will draw from past innovations and will also add new features.

“I hope for new inventions and developments (and) to have the most technologically advanced car,” he said.

New to last year’s design was a student-designed concentration system in which a camera followed the brightest part of the sun and would adjust a panel of mirrors accordingly. The mirrors concentrated the sun's energy to help power the car. The invention is patent pending, Durbin said.

The team will face a disadvantage heading into the World race in Australia, which allows pro and semi-pro clubs. Hechtman said all members of the University's solar car team take classes, giving them less time to work on the car. To make up for it, he said, the team works 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, during the summer.

While the University's solar car team has snagged first place in the North American race five times now, it has yet to place higher than third in the world race.