The University’s Solar Car Team won its fifth consecutive national title in the American Solar Challenge, continuing a legacy of first place victories in the competition.
The eight-day, 1,700-mile race began July 21 in Austin, Texas. The 23 teams of college students raced across seven states before crossing the finish line in Minneapolis, Minn. on July 28. The race is held every other year.
This year, the University’s team entered a three-wheeled car called Quantum, which led the team to a first-place finish in the 2012 American Solar Challenge and a third place finish in the 2011 World Solar Challenge in Australia.
However, the team had to overcome several setbacks to win the American Solar Challenge this year.
During a practice run just days before the race began, the car ran over a pothole, causing a suspension component to break off of the chassis. The team considered whether they would have to use an older car in the race, but engineers at Roush, one of the team’s sponsors, helped the team quickly repair the damage.
Engineering junior Pavan Naik, project manager for the team, said even though the break was a big setback, it helped bring the team closer together.
“In the end, through all these failures, we were able to bond together as a team and work together to potentially win the American Solar Challenge,” Naik said.
The team encountered another challenge at the beginning of the competition when the motor did not function properly, causing the team to drop from first place to sixth place in the first few minutes of the race. However, by the time they reached the first checkpoint, they were back in first place and held the lead for the remainder of the race.
“It’s not hard to build a very aerodynamic and very efficient solar car,” he said. “It’s very hard to build a very successful team. And thankfully, we’ve had 25 years of experience building a very successful team, and I think that’s what sets us apart from any of our competition in the United States and in the world.”
Business junior Mikhail Gorelik, a member of the team’s business division, said organization, efficiency and speed also set the team apart from its competitors.
“Some of the other teams, they would be coming out and they would be walking towards their array and they might not be rushing as much, whereas I’ve had some people tell me that you guys ran out to that car so fast, I thought it was on fire,” he said. “So it was just everybody knowing that as soon as the car stops here, my job is to sprint to it and do this, and just having that ready to go was, I think, what gave us a large advantage on the competition.”
Engineering senior Ian Larson, who serves as the team’s crew chief, said this victory is particularly exciting because the team was able to overcome its ninth place finish in the 2013 World Solar Challenge and multiple setbacks before and during this year’s race.
“That, I think, showed to everyone, both at home and abroad, that the University of Michigan Solar Car Team is going to be back in 2015 and we’re going to be doing everything we can to finally win the World Solar Challenge,” Larson said.