After battling brush fires and desert heat for five days in the Australian Outback, the University’s Solar Car Team finished in third place in the Veolia World Solar Challenge on Thursday.
The solar car team from Tokai University in Japan took first place in the biennial competition, in which solar car teams from around the world race 3,000 kilometers across Australia, stretching from Darwin to Adelaide. The Nuon Solar Car Team from the Netherlands finished second.
The University’s team has competed in the race eight times and has never placed higher than third. The 16 members of the team took the semester off to participate in the race. The team finished the car six months in advance, which allowed members to conduct extensive tests before sending it to Australia.
The teams raced during the day and camped outside every night at 5 p.m., pausing only for periodic control stops. Each team was accompanied by a race official to ensure they followed the rules.
Halfway through the race, the three leading teams were neck and neck despite various challenges, according to Rackham student Caitlin Sadler, a spokeswoman for the University’s team. Among the difficulties was a brushfire that stopped the race for half a day.
“All the teams had to stop and spend the night wherever they were,” Sadler said.
The car, named Quantum, is 16 feet feet long and 37 inches in height. It weighs 200 pounds less than the team’s previous model, the 520-pound Infinium, establishing itself as the most aerodynamic car produced by the team to date.
Solar car driver Troy Halm, a junior in the College of Engineering, said in a Michigan Engineering video of the team in Australia that he is proud of the team’s finish.
“I’m feeling very good, very, very happy the race is over, and I’m relieved,” Halm said. “I’m happy with how we finished — not first — but it’s third, and we finished the race, which is still excellent.”
Halm also pointed to the brushfire as a challenge among others.
“We had a pretty interesting last 100 kilometers,” he said. “The battery dropped a lot lower than we expected, so we had to go pretty slow.”
Engineering and LSA senior Rachel Kramer, another member of the Solar Car Team, said in the video that she had “mixed emotions” about the team’s finish.
“It’s a lot of pride in first getting ourselves here and then in completing the race, but also a little bit of disappointment. I think everyone is feeling that now,” Kramer said. “We came here to get more than third and ended up with third again. It’s kind of our third place curse.”
But team members here in Ann Arbor are already looking to the future and are preparing for the 2013 competition.
“The team at home is always focused on that two-year cycle,” Sadler said. “We’re already working on the 2013 car, and what it’s going to look like and they’re also going to prepare for the American Solar Challenge, which is raced this upcoming summer.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of times the University’s Solar Car Team has competed in the World Solar Challenge.