Austin, Texas [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] During the first day of the North American Solar Challenge (NASC), three teams have claimed early lead positions. Twenty teams qualified to compete in the grueling 2,500-mile cross country solar race that began in Austin, Texas on July 17 and ends on July 27 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.The NASC is an educational event in which participants build and drive cars that run exclusively on solar power. The car with the fastest cumulative time will win the competition. The cars left Austin’s Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave., at 9 a.m. Sunday, July 17, and arrive in Calgary, Alberta, Wednesday, July 27, making history as the first solar car competitors to cross an international border. The car that completes the 2,500-mile trip with the least cumulative time will be the winner of the 2005 NASC, the longest solar car contest in the world. As of 9 p.m. CDT, the University of Michigan has moved into first place after a day of driving. The University of Minnesota and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are in second and third place. All three teams reached Weatherford, Texas, a distance of 211 miles from Austin. The University of Missouri-Rolla and the University of Waterloo also made it to Weatherford and are in fourth and fifth place. The NASC route includes checkpoints in Weatherford, Texas; Broken Arrow, Okla.; Topeka, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Brandon, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; and Medicine Hat, Alberta, before reaching the finish in Calgary. The University of Minnesota had the best qualifying time in the May qualifying event in Kansas and will start first, with the other cars following at 1-minute intervals in the order of their qualifying times. Iowa State University will start second, and Auburn University will leave third. A second qualifying events and safety checks were held this week at the Texas World Speedway in College Station, Texas. To qualify to compete in the NASC, each team drove its solar car at least 120 miles on the track at an average speed of at least 25 mph. In addition to the qualifying laps, all teams had to undergo rigorous safety and reliability checks at Travis County Expo Center in Austin, Texas. (Editors note: A list of qualifying teams, in start order, follows.) NASC cars must be powered solely by sunshine. The teams use photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight into electricity to power their cars. Weather and energy management play important roles in the contest. The cars mostly travel at highway speeds and are required to obey local speed limits, but in general the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days also allow the cars to “fill up” their batteries for cloudy or rainy days. With today’s results, Michigan has the overall race lead with the lowest cumulative time. Only one minute separates Michigan, at 4 hours, 3 minutes and 25 seconds and second place team Minnesota, 4:04:26. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Resources Canada, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, TransAlta, University of Calgary, CSI Wireless, AMD and Manitoba Transportation and Government Services.