Solar "challenge" lives up to its name

solar car trails a lead van

Iowa State's Phaëton 2 trails its lead vehicle on the road to Topeka, Kansas, on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Team PrISUm.

Five days into an eight-day, 1,975-mile race for student-built solar cars, Iowa State's Team PrISUm and its Phaëton 2 vehicle are in a three-way battle for eighth place among the 12 universities still competing. Twenty teams arrived in Pittsburgh July 21 hoping to qualify in a series of car performance tests and laps completed on a speedway.

If engineers are known for their problem solving, Team PrISUm was put to the test this week. The team has dealt with failed axle bearings on the towing trailer, a battery charging system that blew up on the eve of the race, bent axle and smashed wheel covers due to a gap in the road shoulder (the car pitched into the ditch) and a failed electrical power board. Fixing several of these issues cut into solar cell charging time at the end of the day, with the potential to impact the next day's performance.

Seeing the sites

In partnership with the National Park Service's centennial celebration, the 2016 American Solar Challenge includes checkpoints at nine national parks or historic sites in seven Midwestern states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Wednesday began the longest of the race's four stages, an 850-mile stretch from Republic, Missouri, to Gering, Nebraska, that the teams have up to three days to complete. Team PrISUm reached Wednesday's checkpoint in Topeka, Kansas, and departs from there Thursday. Once the teams reach Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska, it's a 158-mile jaunt Saturday from Gering to the finish line at Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs, South Dakota.


Related stories:

Team PrISUm enjoys sunny skies and a (mostly) quiet drive to Topeka, Aug. 3, 2016
Team PrISUm races nearly 300 miles on the day, runs out of charge 5 miles from stage stop, Aug. 2, 2016
More Team PrISUm highs and lows: Solar car cruises, arrives seconds late to checkpoint, drops wheel in ditch, Aug. 1, 2016
Another up and down day for Team PrISUm, but Phaëton 2 does hit the speed limit, July 31, 2016
Team PrISUm solves another problem, races well, looks forward to a quiet night, July 30, 2016
Team PrISUm qualifies ninth for American Solar Challenge, believes it has found speed, July 28, 2016
Iowa State's solar car team ready to race 1,800 miles from national park to national park, July 18, 2016