Despite the dangers of being in Tornado Alley, the University’s solar car team performed a three-day mock race in Austin, Texas this week in preparation for the upcoming American Solar Challenge.
Quantum, the team’s newest and 11th vehicle, is 200 pounds lighter and 30 percent more aerodynamic than their previous vehicle, Infinium. Quantum was used in the mock race and will also be used to compete in the upcoming Solar Challenge, which is an eight-day, 1700-mile solar car race from Austin, Texas to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Engineering junior Connor O’Brien, the team’s race manager, said the mock race gave the team a valuable opportunity to test the performance both of Quantum, and of the team themselves.
“We found our weaknesses as well as our unexpected strengths,” O’Brien said.
He added that one of the group’s main concerns has been the amount of new members they have on the race crew team, but that the group’s experience during the practice race showed positive progress. The team has made plans to practice in an additional mock race around the perimeter of Michigan before the American Solar Challenge.
Engineering sophomore Allison Hogikyan, a member of the team’s Business and Operations division, said the goal while in Texas was to simulate the actual race as closely as possible and identify key areas for improvement.
“The humidity and heat of a Texas day was perhaps as important to experience as the schedule of a race day,” Hogikyan said. “These days consist of a 6 a.m. awakening for about half the team to begin charging the battery as soon as the sun rises, while team members who drive the solar car or a caravan vehicle wake up at 7:30 a.m.”
Hogikyan said the team was also challenged by high wind speed while driving Quantum in Oklahoma and Texas, as well as the potential of several tornados and storms, but chose to push on.
“Our team was very strong over the course of the mock race,” O’Brien said. “This is very important to the functionality of the team and the reason why the mock race was successful.”
Following the race, the team returned to Ann Arbor to continue pursuing an aggressive testing schedule that will continue to mimic race conditions as closely as possible. In the lead-up to the competition next month, each team member has developed a final checklist of items to practice to be ready for race day.
O’Brien said the ultimate goal for his team is to win the World Solar Challenge next year.
“The Michigan Solar Car team has won the American Solar Challenge seven times in the past,” he said. “It really speaks to our tradition of excellence. We are expected to win.”