Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, October 10, 2011

Countdown: Solar car team ready to race in Australia

With a cutting-edge solar car, an advanced strategy and an intrepid 16-student race crew, U-M's national champion Solar Car Team is ready for the fast-approaching World Solar Challenge. The 1,800-mile international contest starts on the north shore of Australia in Darwin on Oct. 16.

 
  Quantum participates in a mock race across Michigan in July. (Photo by Diane Thach)
   
 
 
Two embedded Michigan Engineering reporters will be covering the race live from Australia. Follow their reports online on the Solar Control Panel.

During the past two years of intense preparation, the team shaved 200 pounds off its 2009 car by weighing the vehicle bolt by bolt and streamlining nearly every part. They improved its aerodynamics by an estimated 30 percent. They tested in practice races across Michigan and in Australia. And they strategized with computer scientists and sailboat racers to come up with more accurate weather forecasting models.

All they can do now, for the most part, is wait. And for some, that's harder than it sounds.

"I just want to race," says Chris Hilger, the team's business manager and a junior in chemical engineering.

The World Solar Challenge is a grueling four-day race across the desert. Drivers rotate in four-hour shifts in a car that's not designed for comfort. The cockpit can exceed 100 degrees. Then they sleep in tents on the side of the Stuart Highway. U-M's team is one of 37 competing from across the globe this year.

Michigan has finished third in this world race three times, most recently in 2009. That year's model, Infinium, also nabbed a third consecutive national title for the team, which has six in all.

While the students are aiming for a world title with this year's car, Quantum, they know the competition will be tough. And they are proud of their accomplishments so far.

"The team has done some pretty incredible things this year. We took on some ambitious designs and processes. We're pushing the limits of what's possible," says Rachel Kramer, the team's race manager and a junior neuroscience student.

"No matter how the race turns out, we can walk away knowing we've revolutionized how the team designs, builds and races solar cars."