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U-M Solar Car Team wins a record-breaking American Solar Challenge

Solar Car Team

Top photo by Ethan Lardner, courtesy of the U-M Solar Car Team

Despite being challenged by extreme weather conditions along the way, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team has won the 2012 American Solar Challenge with their car Quantum for a fourth consecutive American title – and broke the current national record.

The 8-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 July 21. The U-M car crossed the finish line at around 2:30 p.m. CDT, for a final time of just under 45 hours. Also in the top five of the competition of 18 schools were Iowa State University, Principia College and the University of California Berkeley.

This is the seventh North American title for the team, which won the inaugural event in 1990 with its first car, the Sunrunner. It was also a record-breaking run, as the team finished the race with a 10 hour, 18 minute lead on its nearest competitor, Iowa State. The current record was also held by the University of Michigan with their car Continuum in 2008.

“It is exciting and a relief,” said crew chief and recent electrical engineering grad 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 ten 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 have 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 will usually 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. 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,” said Mazur. “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, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team 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, Inc., Michigan Engineering, Ford Motor Co and GM.

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The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by the U-M Mechanical Engineering Department) from materials provided by the Co llege of Engineering. Author: Jennifer Judge Hensel (jjhensel@umich.edu) / Original Story: http://www.engin.umich.edu/college/about/news/stories/2012/july/u-m-solar-car-team-wins-a-record-breaking-american-solar-challenge.

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