While most students spent last week”s holiday at home, savoring turkey dinners and watching football games, 19 members of the College of Engineering Solar Car team traveled to Australia to compete in the International Solar Car Race. There, they became the first American team and the first university team to reach the finish line in this year”s competition.
The team”s overall third-place finish in the 1,820-mile race across the Australian outback comes on the heels of its first-place finish in this summer”s American Solar Challenge.
“The race has been quite overwhelming so far,” said team captain Nader Shwayhat. “I”m really proud of the way the team ran and we”re all happy with how well our vehicle ran.”
In addition, the team also came within 45 minutes of breaking the fastest time in race history, set by the Honda Motor Co., Shwayhat added. They did set the record for the fastest time of an all-university team.
“Our accomplishments came down to having a very solid team that had a lot of experience and could work extremely well together,” Shwayhat said. “I”ve never worked with a more dedicated, competitive, and focused group of individuals in my life.”
“I truly believe that we impressed the very staunch and veteran crowds here in Australia,” he added.
Besides a motor change on day three that lasted four minutes, Shwayhat said the car had virtually no problems.
“We never even had to change a tire for the entire race,” Shwayhat said. “We drove our car as hard as we could and are pleased that we could compete with much more well equipped and experienced professional teams.”
Team adviser Kris Kors said that a professional team from the Netherlands named Alpha Centuri was at one time three hours ahead of the University team during the race, which extended from the northern city of Darwin to Adelaide in the south of the country.
To lessen this gap, University team members woke up at the break of dawn on the last day of the race to charge up the car”s battery and catch as many solar rays as possible.
“The solar array team got up when the sun came over the horizon, and then the team planned to sprint towards the finish line,” Kors said. They averaged 65 to 70 mph, he said.
“I couldn”t be prouder,” Kors added of the team, which rebuilt its car earlier this year after an accident during test drives only days before last summer”s national competition.
“They lost control of the car and went into a ditch. The car was destroyed,” Kors said.
Refurbishments to the car included the replacement of the cable steering system and damaged solar cells. The team also worked to improve the reliability of the electrical signals, and the weight of the car was reduced by 60 pounds.
Test runs for this race were carefully planned and accounted for the flat terrain and intense sunlight.
“When they went to Australia, they drove the race backwards to map out the trail,” Kors said. “It gave them an idea of strategies.”