Soaking up the Summer Sun, and Putting It to Use

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Unfinished with finals week, seventeen Northwestern University students packed up on June 10, 2010 and began our drive down to Texas as NUsolar.  After two days on the road, the team (half of which was made up of freshmen) arrived at the MotorSport Ranch in Cresson, Texas.  This is where solar cars came from across the world to compete in this year’s Formula Sun Grand Prix.  This track 'rayce' is also the qualifier for the American Solar Challenge- the cross-country rayce that takes place right afterwards.  (Rayce is the spelling we use when we race on rays from the sun.)

First, we worked to pass the scrutineering tests- inspections from the officials followed by dynamic testing of the turning and braking ability of the cars.  Once passed our own hurdles, helping hands were lent out to other teams as part of the ‘gracious professionalism’ that is a point of pride for this event.  The way we see it, the more teams that get to compete, the bigger the event, and the more leverage we have in getting sponsorship- the lifeblood of any solar car team.  After four days without quite enough sleep, water, or sunscreen, it was time to move on to the fun part- raycing.

FSGP is not about how fast you can go- it’s about how many laps you can fit into three days.  The track is 1.7 miles long with two no-passing zones at the sharper turns.  We needed 100 laps in one day or 150 laps in two days to qualify to rayce in the ASC. To qualify drivers, it’s 25 laps each.  Even though the wind took us off the road a couple times, we made it through without more than a couple scrapes, and finished strong in fourth place.

Finally, it was off to Tulsa, Oklahoma to begin the ASC- the seven-day, 1200-mile, strategically challenging cross-country rayce of 2010.  After some electrical stops to tie things down and having to push and pull our car up some steep hills, I got to drive our car across the finish line just before closing time.  It was our best rayce ever, and an experience I’ll never forget.

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