Lying flat on your back for four hours in a racing car’s
tiny compartment, where the interior sometimes reaches 130 degrees,
may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But for the
dedicated drivers of the University’s Solar Car Team,
it’s part of the fun.

“Usually, we have between five and 10 people who want to
drive the car, who still want to be drivers after experiencing what
it’s like,” said LSA senior Maggie Hayes, the
team’s operations director.

The drivers will race the team’s car in July’s North
American Solar Challenge, a race from Texas to Canada, Hayes said.
The team’s wafer-thin vehicles have raced in the NASC seven
times, winning three national titles.

The team has also competed three times in the World Solar
Challenge, a race from the north to the south coast of Australia,
against such teams as Honda and the European Space Agency.

“We’ve placed as high as third in the Australian
race against some tough competition, so we’re pretty proud of
our third place,” Hayes said.

The University team redesigns the car each year, unlike many
teams that reuse their cars in multiple races, said Engineering
senior Mirai Aki, the team’s engineering director. The team
has two years to design the car before each race.

The team, which consists of about 200 University students and
two faculty advisors, is currently looking to add new members.

“On this team, all the faculty advisors are in the role of
mentors. They’re there when we need help, but the people who
make the decisions and the people who run the team are the
students,” said Aki.

Not all team members are engineers, and many of them come with
little engineering experience. The team is composed of students
majoring in business, design, language and the arts.

Students can become involved in diverse roles on the team, from
researching new technologies to meeting with sponsors to helping
engineer the car itself. New members get an opportunity to learn
how the solar car functions through work sessions and by talking to
fellow teammates.

“You must simply have an interest … and the
willingness to put aside other aspects of your life for the
team,” said Engineering sophomore Jonathan Brown, a race
system leader.

Members can put in as few as two to three hours and as many as
40 to 50 hours every week into the project, Hayes said. Committed
students, she said, can become team leaders without a lot of
experience.

Though a great experience for University students, solar car
racing is not without its dangers. This summer, a University of
Toronto student, Andrew Frow, was killed while driving his
team’s solar car during a practice run.

“Any sort of vehicle racing can be dangerous. It’s
just something you have to design around and keep in mind,”
Hayes said. “We only build one car, but we do everything we
can to make it the best car possible — the fastest and the
safest.”

Don’t expect to see solar cars on the streets any time
soon. Not only are the car’s solar cells expensive, but they
also don’t generate enough power to move a large vehicle. The
current solar cars run on only one to two kilowatts of power, about
the amount required by a hair dryer.

To finance the project, the solar car team’s business
division works with more than 200 sponsors, including General
Motors Co., the Ford Motor Co. and IBM. Their budget runs to more
than $2 million, but even small contributions are considered
helpful, Brown said.

“(We do) public outreach so everybody feels like they
contribute,” he said.

Interested students can find information about the team online
at www.umsolar.com or by attending
the team’s weekly meetings Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in room 1610 of
the Industrial and Operations Engineering Building.

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