Students Rev Up for Solar Power Car Race

The price of gasoline won’t be a worry for 30 cars powered by nothing but the sun as they speed across the country July 13 to 23 in what organizers call the longest solar car race in the world.

Evanston, Illinois, July 10, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Teams from universities, companies and organizations around the world will compete in the American Solar Challenge (ASC), a 2,300-mile race beginning at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) on July 13 and finishing in Claremont, California. The route follows historic Route 66. The winner – the fastest solar-powered car on the North American continent – will be the car with the best cumulative time between Chicago and the Los Angeles area. But, before cars can even approach the starting line, they first must qualify for the race by undergoing a series of rigorous safety, electrical, mechanical and road tests. Northwestern University hosted the qualifying event beginning with the “scrutineering” segment July 7 to 9 at Ryan Field, 1501 Central St., Evanston campus. All cars were inspected to ensure that they are safe and roadworthy by requiring them to pass a series of tests during a three-day period. The dynamic portion of these tests included braking performance on wet pavement at 30 mph and handling and stability in a timed figure-8 course. The static tests will checked that the structural and electrical components are sound, that driver visibility is unobstructed and that the driver is able to exit the car in less than 10 seconds. Teams must pass scrutineering before moving on to the qualifying road test, a two-day track rally during which cars must travel 140 miles in eight to 10 hours. The rally will take place July 10 and 11 at MGA Research Track in Burlington, Wisconsin. On July 12, the public is invited to get a close-up view of the cars that have made the cut at “Garage Day” from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Museum of Science and Industry. Students will be working on their cars outside in front of the museum, fine-tuning the details that could make the difference in a fiercely contested race. A kick-off banquet, sponsored by BP Solar, will be held that evening at the museum. (The banquet is not open to the public.) ASC cars must be powered solely by sunshine. The racers use photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight to electricity to power their cars. Weather and energy management play an important role in the race. The cars generally travel at highways 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. Designs for the vehicles are often low, sleek and colorful, with solar cells covering the car body. Although most solar cars are one-person, this year’s race will see some of the first two-person cars. After leaving Chicago, the cars will follow Route 66 at much as possible, with checkpoints in Springfield, Ill.; Rolla, Mo.; Joplin, Mo.; Edmond, Okla.; Sayre, Okla.; Amarillo, Texas; Tucamcari, N.M.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Gallup, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Kingman, Ariz.; and Barstow, Calif., before reaching the finish line in Claremont. This year’s race, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is the second American Solar Challenge. The first race was held in 2001. American Solar Challenge
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