Aurora Turns Heads at Regional Qualifier
by Scott Grabow, Mechanical Engineering Graduate
April 8-10, was the Eastern Regionai Qualifier for Sunrayce 93, where Aurora made it's first showing to other teams, and the world. Friday the 9th was reserved for scrutineering, a process in which professionals from the automobile and electric vehicles industries inspect the cars. This was to insure the teams did not violate any of the race rules, and their cars were safe to drive on the Speedway track. During this time of scrutineering, both the inspectors and the other teams were full of questions about our unique vehicle. The process was as follows. First they would ask about the size, "Why did you make it so big?" We would respond with a number: 1600. That's approximately how many 4" x 4" solar cells would fit on our car. Other teams immediately saw the signifiance of this because they were familiary with their own car which was more than likely was a small flat car with the space for about 600 cells.
In addition to the other teams, Aurora also turned the heads of some professional Indy car engineers. One in particular was the Chief Engineer of Lola, who has designed the past Chevy, and the present Ford and Buick frames that are racing this year at Indy. He said technically Aurora was very sound, and he was quite interested in the undertunnel's structure and its affects on the car's aerodynamics.
Much to our pleasure and surprise, the newborn Aurora was the second car of the twenty one to successfully complete the inspections. With the scrutineering process behind us, the path was clear for Aurora to attempt the qualifying laps on Saturday.
Fifteen other schools were allowed on to the track to attempt to qualify. Of those, 11 successfully qualified by completing twenty-one laps or more with an average speed above 20 miles per hour. Aurora qualified with an average speed of 35.33 miles per hour. Even though the top speed was roughly 50 mph, and we finished 8th, we were very pleased. For one thing the qualifier is not the race. The race is 1000 miles and requires a much different strategy than a fifty mile sprint. At the qualifier, teams could use all of their battery power in a distance equivalent to only one third of the distance of one of the six race days. In other words, it was short enough so that actually gathering and using solar energy was not required. This was fortunate for us because we only had one sixth of our cells in place. In fact, a few teams qualified without any cells.
Another reason we were so pleased was that a mere two days before, the car was not driveable! Only because of the incredible effort of each and every team member were we able to drive the car at all. Most of the people who had participated in the week long around the clock effort were more than satisified, in fact joyful, with just watching the car drive, turn, and stop. We felt quite comfortable that with a few days sleep, and two months to finish the array and fine tune the car, we could be in the winners circle in June. So comfortable in fact, that we showed the famed Minnesota spirit of sportsmanship. Drexel blew out all of their tires in the first couple of laps. They asked us for a patch kit and we offered them a complete set of inner tubes. They were extremely grateful and we were pleased to watch them go on to nudge Virginia Tech out of first place by less than one tenth of a mile per hour! The grand challenge of Sunrayce 93 is approaching. Aurora will surely turn some heads there also, and show what true hard work and teamwork can lead to. After Sunrayce 93, look out World Solar Challenge here we come!