The University’s Solar Car Team’s route to the World Solar Challenge in Australia wound through Michigan last week as the team conducted its Mock Race in preparation for the Challenge in October.
Beginning on July 16, the student-run group headed westward from Ann Arbor in its newest vehicle, Quantum, for a 1,000-mile race along the coast of the Lower Peninsula. Along the way, the team coordinated its caravan of vehicles, slept at campsites at night, rehearsed road procedures and practiced navigating traffic — all tasks that race manager and LSA senior Rachel Kramer said the team would need to efficiently complete in order to win the Challenge.
University President Mary Sue Coleman lauded the Solar Car Team at the University’s Board of Regents meeting on July 21 and said she is anticipating success from the student group.
“No college team has won the international challenge in a very long time, but if any college team can do it, we absolutely believe that ours can and we’re very much looking forward to their race,” Coleman said.
She added the team is particularly important to the University because it showcases students working together to utilize the University’s wealth of technological resources.
“The solar car team is one of our most visible examples of teamwork, innovation and technology,” she said.
Kramer said the team learned a lot from their trial run, which centered on evaluating and improving the reliability of the car.
“Every mile we can put on the car with the rest of the team there is great practice,” she added.
On July 18, however, a lack of communication within the caravan led to the solar car hitting a pothole and being forced to stop racing for the day to make small repairs. Since the incident, the team has pledged to be more careful and develop new ways to communicate hazards to the solar car’s driver, Kramer said.
“We’ve had practice runs before where we go for several hours on roads that we’re familiar with,” Kramer said. “But going on all new terrain we know that communication within the caravan is very important for the cars that are ahead of the solar car are communicating effectively what’s ahead and even communicating small things like potholes.”
Along with communication, Kramer said the team’s strategy, execution of race procedures and the reliability of the car will need to be flawless to win the Challenge, which is renowned as the premier international solar car competition.
The team finished third in the 2009 Challenge, and Kramer said this year they have an advantage over past University teams because they believe Quantum is one of the top solar vehicles in the world.
Unveiled in April, Quantum is 16 feet long and thirty-seven inches tall, weighs 200 pounds less than its predecessor — the 520-pound Infinium — and is the most aerodynamic car the team has ever produced, Kramer said.
Between now and October, the team will be working to refine the car and will return it to the open road for another multi-day race. Despite the difficulties that lie ahead, Kramer said the team’s hopes for winning are high because of their confidence in the car and how it performed in the Mock Race.
“We know we have work to do to get there, but we’ve come a long way,” Kramer said. “So there’s still optimism there, and we know that we’re going to work incredibly hard because it’s definitely not easy to get to that place. But we’re feeling pretty good.”
Kramer added she and the rest of the team understand the difficulty of winning the Challenge — a feat no American team has achieved since General Motors won the inaugural race in 1987 with the GM Sunraycer.
“It would be a huge milestone for Michigan, knowing that twenty years of teams before our team have worked for this goal, and to reach it would be incredible,” Kramer said. “It’d be a great accomplishment, not just for the people who are on the team now but for all of the alumni and fans and supporters who have followed us all the way through.”