Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 11, 2013

Solar Car Team rebounds from crash to finish race

A lesson in resilience is what the U-M Solar Car Team will bring home from Australia after this year’s international race across the continent.

After a disappointing crash in a drainage ditch about two-thirds of the way through the World Solar Challenge, the students lifted their heads, took out their tools, fixed their car and finished.

  Solar Car

After a late night spent repairing the crash-damaged Generation, the U-M Solar Car Team made it to the Coober Pedy, Australia, stop and then finished the World Solar Challenge. (Photo courtesy of the U-M Solar Car Team)

The asymmetrical vehicle named Generation caught a strong wind gust while rounding a curve into one of the last checkpoints near the South Australia town of Coober Pedy. No one was hurt.

“If there wasn’t a ditch there, the car would’ve been fine,” said Pavan Naik, the team’s business development manager and an industrial and operations engineering major.

“It’s not easy to see something you’ve worked on for a year and a half crash like that,” he added. “But we didn’t waste a minute. We rallied together and spent the night repairing the car.”

To get Generation back on the road, the students had to reinforce its cracked inner ribs. Then they drove figure eights in a parking lot to make sure it was safe to drive.

The team was in seventh place when the accident happened, and Generation finished ninth at about 12:30 a.m. EDT today, which was around 3 p.m. in Adelaide, Australia.

“The best thing that came out of this year was a strong team,” Naik said. “Without a strong team, we wouldn't have been able to rebound from a crash in a day.”

The 1,800-mile World Solar Challenge, which takes place every other year, began Oct. 5 (Oct. 6 in Australia). First and second place went to perennial powerhouse teams Nuon from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Tokai University in Japan, respectively.

In the race’s history, U-M's team has come in third five times, most recently in 2011. It has finished first in the North American Solar Challenge seven times, most recently in 2012. Major sponsors this year include General Motors, Ford, IMRA, the College of Engineering, Qatar Airways and Siemens. With more than 100 students involved from across the university, it’s one of the largest student organizations on campus.