New solar car faster, lighter

Publish Date: 02/22/1994

James Mathewson 
Staff Reporter

The University's solar car team is gearing up for Sunrayce 95.

The team mailed its race entry proposal Friday. Thirty students from a variety of disciplines are working on the car.

Paul Kelsey, the team's co-project manager, said the University's next solar car -- named the Aurora II -- will handle better and be much smaller and lighter than Aurora I, the team's entry in Sunrayce 93.

Aurora I placed 23rd out of the 34 competitors at Sunrayce 93.

Kelsey said the team learned from problems encountered in 1993 and is working to avoid them in the June 1995 race.

"We built the entire vehicle in less than three months -- just in time for the qualifier," Kelsey said. "This time we're going to build most of the car a year ahead of time and do extensive testing before bringing it to a race."

Aurora I was nearly the largest and heaviest vehicle in Sunrayce 93. Its size and weight posed real problems, especially when going uphill. Its tubular design and height posed special aerodynamic problems, particularly in cross winds.

"That car was a wind sack," said mechanical engineering professor Virgil Marple, a faculty adviser for the project. "Whenever a cross wind gusted, it pulled the car into the wind."

Pat Starr, also a mechanical engineering professor and the team's other faculty adviser, said the new car will be much lower to the ground.

"Its center of gravity will be nearly two feet lower (than Aurora I)," Starr said, adding that this will help the new car handle better.

This year's team wants to include high safety standards in the new design. Aurora I won first prize for safety at Sunrayce 93.

Starr said the body design will better absorb collisions than Aurora I. The car will also have a roll bar, in compliance with Sunrayce 95 regulations.

"We also need to have better lighting on the support vehicles," Marple said. Cars passing the solar vehicle at 70 mph can present very dangerous conditions, he said.

Jessica Gallagher, co-project manager, said the most important lesson learned from Sunrayce 93 is to be better prepared.

"Last year, our schedule was so demanding, we all were sleep deprived," Gallagher said. This adversely affected their performance, she said.

This time around, the team plans to make a test run on next year's race course between Indianapolis and Colorado Springs, Colo.

Last year's race was between Arlington, Texas, and the Twin Cities.

"The more we know ahead of time, the better race we will run," Gallagher said.

The team also needs to have better weather data for next year's race, Marple said.

Alex Detrick, who is in charge of the car's electrical system, said weather information plays an important role in driving strategy.

"Sometimes in clouds you have to go faster -- called cloud surfing -- so you can get to the sunny spots to recharge the batteries," Detrick said.

But before the team hits the road, it needs sponsorship money.

Mohammad Al-Aidy, who is responsible for marketing the car, said he is confident the team will raise $300,000 for the project.

Al-Aidy said most of the money will come from major corporate sponsorship, though smaller companies and individuals may donate, too. In fact, with a minimum $20 donation, an individual can pay for a solar cell on the car.

"It really helps the team to know that we have the support of the community," Al-Aidy said.