The University Record, August 13, 2001

U-M solar car races to victory in national competition

From the College of Engineering

Members of U-M’s victorious solar car team race with M-Pulse, the team’s entry in the recent American Solar Challenge. (Photo courtesy Schenck & Schenck)
M-Pulse, the College of Engineering’s solar car, sped to a first-place finish July 25 in the American Solar Challenge. The 2,300-mile race along historic Route 66 started July 15 in Chicago and ended in Claremont, Calif.

M-Pulse won with a total time of 56 hours, 10 minutes and 46 seconds—one hour and 20 minutes faster than the second-place team and defending champion, the University of Missouri-Rolla. A crash just a month earlier had left M-Pulse debilitated and without much hope of even competing in the race.

A trial run June 18 along the race route near Oklahoma City ended in disaster when M-Pulse’s attempts to avoid a series of potholes launched the vehicle into a ditch. No one was injured, but the crash damaged many of the car’s sophisticated components. The M-Pulse team spent the next 17 days attempting to rebuild the vehicle, which had taken a year and a half to construct.

“It’s hard to believe this fantastic finish considering the position we were in just four weeks ago,” says Nader Shwayhat, team captain. “Through the amazing efforts of this team—including frantic 24-hour work schedules, emergency calls to sponsors and endless rounds of last-minute fixes—we were able to restore M-Pulse to its original racing condition.”

“Congratulations to all of the members of the

M-Pulse team on an outstanding race and a thrilling first-place finish,” says President Lee C. Bollinger. “I am delighted to join the University community in commending the M-Pulse team leaders and members for their ingenuity and will to win that helped them overcome what at times must have seemed like insurmountable obstacles.”

The team’s faculty advisers, Brian Gilchrist, associated professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and Kenneth Kohrs, adjunct professor of engineering and of business administration, lauded the M-Pulse team.

“This win is a testament to the quality of this team,” Gilchrist says. “They have a rare combination of motivation, teamwork skills, willingness to accept personal sacrifice and a real can-do attitude.”

Kohrs explained that the team has behaved like a microcosm of automotive development and vehicle center activities—taking on an array of tasks, including design, construction, logistics and fundraising, all of which had to be completed in a short time.

M-Pulse consistently raced near the 55-mph speed limit, though a string of brief stops due to technical and mechanical complications kept the vehicle in second place behind the University of Missouri-Rolla car for the first four days. By the end of day five, however, M-Pulse was racing approximately 30 minutes ahead of Missouri-Rolla.

The win is the third victory for the U-M in this national solar car competition and its first victory since 1993. The team plans to take on international competitiors in November at the World Solar Car Challenge in Australia.

The American Solar Challenge is a biannual event in which participants build and race cars that rely solely on the sun as a fuel source. Twenty-eight cars competed in this year’s race.