Solar Car Team wins fourth straight American title, breaks own national record
Despite being challenged by extreme weather conditions along the way, the U-M Solar Car Team has won the 2012 American Solar Challenge with its car, Quantum, for a fourth consecutive American title — and broken a national record.
The eight-day, biennial 1,650-mile competition for solar-powered vehicles started in Rochester, N.Y., on July 14 and ended in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday. The U-M car crossed the finish line around 2:20 p.m. CDT, for a final time of 44 hours, 36 minutes and 21 seconds. Taking second and third in the competition of 18 schools were Iowa State University and Principia College, respectively.
This is the seventh North American title for the team, which won the inaugural event in 1990 with its first car, the Sunrunner. It also was a record-breaking run, as the team finished the race with a 10-hour, 18-minute lead on its nearest competitor. The previous record also was held by U-M, with Continuum in 2008.
"It is exciting and a relief," said crew chief and recent electrical engineering graduate Ryan Mazur. "We have proven that Quantum is a great car and made all our alumni proud."
The racers encountered some bad weather conditions on the route, including intense rain on the second and last day of racing. U-M took advantage of the weather on day two, acquiring a two-hour lead as other teams hampered by the rain were forced to drive slower to preserve their energy.
The lead continued to increase throughout the race to almost 10 hours. However, a bad storm on the last day of racing forced U-M to pull over a few times to adjust the vehicle in the rain, once for "irregular rotation of the vehicle."
"We've tested the car extensively in the rain, and each of our drivers has practiced in the rain, so that really gave us an advantage," said mechanical engineering student and 2012 lead strategist A.J. Trublowksi. "While our overall strategy stayed mostly the same, we definitely had to make some adjustments to adverse weather conditions."
Racing in bad weather is always a challenge. According to 2011 race manager Rachel Kramer, the teams' strategy units usually will take the lead on speed and tactics, but safety is always a concern.
"You need a lot of experience and talented people in bad weather, and a lot of communication between the driver and the rest of the team," she said. "Ultimately, it's up to the driver — it's their call when safety is an issue."
Compared with previous routes, the 2012 path cut through more cities and towns, allowing for more encounters with fans, but also increasing the difficulty for the teams.
"This was a very interesting and difficult route," Mazur said. "The varying places we were driving made things a challenge from a navigation standpoint. We had to deal with heavy traffic and dangerous drivers on busy roads often."
The U-M team raced Quantum, its lightest-ever vehicle that finished third in the World Solar Challenge in Australia last fall. Quantum weighs a full 200 pounds less than its most recent predecessor, and it is 30 percent more aerodynamic.
The U-M Solar Car Team has finished third in the World Solar Challenge five times, most recently in 2011. With more than 100 students from schools and colleges across the university, U-M Solar Car is one of the largest student organizations on campus.
"The atmosphere on solar car is unlike anything I have ever experienced before," said race manager Jordan Feight, an atmospheric and oceanic space sciences student. "The dedication and commitment to push beyond what was previously possible is simply amazing. There has been no class that has come to close to paralleling the knowledge I have picked up being on the solar car team."
Major sponsors of the U-M Solar Car team include IMRA America, Michigan Engineering, Ford and General Motors.