U's solar car takes second at Sunrayce '95

Publish Date: 06/30/1995
Nick Doty
For The Daily

She laid in the sun all day, but even with no sunblock, she strolled into town without a blemish.

Aurora-II, the University's slick $130,000 solar-powered vehicle, surprised everyone and coasted across the finish line Thursday in Golden, Colo., to a close second-place finish in the '95 Sunrayce.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the intercollegiate cross-country race for single-passenger solar-powered electric vehicles. But Aurora-II team members were perhaps the proudest of the 38 entrants who came from an area spanning Quebec to Puerto Rico.

"We're in awe of what we did," said Aurora driver Chris Herman, adding that the project was entirely student-run. "This shows students can design a smooth operator."

This year's race route started in Indianapolis and headed west about 1,200 miles through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

From June 20 until Thursday, members of Aurora-II successfully covered a lot of miles but lost a lot of shut-eye in the process.

Each day the team arose at 4:30 a.m. and didn't return to bed until about 11 p.m.

Racing began every day at 10 a.m. with one-minute intervals between each car's start. The cars covered an average of 130 miles each day. Cars were allowed to charge -- only with solar energy -- from 6 to 9 a.m. and from the point they finished the race each day until dusk.


Throughout the race, the Aurora-II never ceased to impress passers-by with its looks and team members with its durability. But sometimes it had a negative effect on the team.

"The hardest thing with the race was when cars would stop and look at us," Herman said. "The attention got in our way."

However, most Sunraycers avoided trouble during the course. The race's only accident took place Thursday during the final stage.

"We had a little excitement earlier when a car spun out in front of us, but nothing like (what happened to the accident victims from) Iowa State," said Herman. "Their car was in pieces."

Aurora-II members were a hot second going into the final race leg and overjoyed, trailing MIT by 47 minutes.

The final leg saw the University team cross the finish line for the day far ahead of the pack -- gaining 30 minutes on MIT. It wasn't quite enough to overcome the overall lead, but more than enough to satisfy the team members.


The race may have lasted only nine days, but work on the Aurora-II required two years of planning. Preparation for this year started immediately after the University's participation in the '93 Sunrayce.

Workers spent 20 to 40 hours a week on the Aurora-II on top of coursework, but the project provided them with a needed relief from textbooks.

For many of the University team members, the project has been a first step into the world of hands-on engineering. All members are undergraduate or graduate students.

The solar car's sleek low-ride design not only helped the team place second, but the Aurora-II garnered the award for best aerodynamics. The racer's body consists of a sandwich of Kevlar (lightweight material used in bulletproof vests), carbon fiber and polyurethane foam core.

Aurora-II's outer shell is radiant silver with an iridescent solar array. At the center of the body is a tinted bubble canopy, similar to that of a fighter jet, which covers the driver's seat.

"This car is 10 times the design we had last time," said Charles Habermann, logistics team leader.

A fiberglass frame supports the body of the vehicle, which rolls on three spoked bicycle tires. Also housed in the frame are seven batteries to store energy gathered from the shell's solar cells, which turn light into the electricity that energizes the cars.

Aurora-II contains twice as much battery power as the University's '93 competitor, Aurora-I, and weighs 300 pounds less -- 572 pounds without the driver.

Its members describe their racer's functioning as, "Fueled by the sun, powered by the mind."

Aside from a hard-working crew of about 30, the Aurora-II received a large helping hand from more than 40 sponsors.

The team also relied heavily on WCCO-AM (830) daily forecasts to budget its use of battery power throughout the race.

In fact, weather trouble in the '93 Sunrayce called for a change in travel direction this year. The '93 race went from Dallas to the Minnesota Zoo and was plagued by five days of rain that hindered a great deal of battery recharging time.

Aurora-II members credit a select group of business leaders -- who shared their time and professional connections -- with making the race a success.

"We couldn't have made it (to Golden) without the guidance of the Executive Advisory Committee," said Tonia Stoffregen, team member and local race contact.

The Aurora-II team plans to race their vehicle against Pacific competition in a few weeks in Akita, Japan.

Notes: Two-time defending Sunrayce champion Michigan was forced to withdraw from the race early.