The American Solar Challenge, the biennial road/highway endurance test for cars and teams alike, wrapped up today at the University of Minnesota campus.
Solar car racing events, whether the annual track race or the biennial road journey, are like big family reunions. The place to renew friendships with competitors, manufacturers and officials alike, and learn from all of them. Competitors share their design ideas and excitement, manufacturers attend to see how their solar arrays are doing and lend moral support, and officials, many of whom are solar car veterans, watch for all the tricks that students try, because their teams did the same thing back “in the day.”
But the fun and camaraderie masks the hard work needed to field a solar car, or manage any other complex project.
Missouri S&T’s Solar Car Team has been in a long rebuilding period. They hadn’t qualified for the track since 2011 so their focus was on reorganizing the team and cobbling together systems that weren’t necessarily designed to integrate well. In short, the checkbook was closed and they had to make do with what they had, and it became a great motivational learning tool because they did remarkably well at Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas just two weeks ago.
Out of twenty international teams, the Miners took 7th place despite driving just two of the available three track days. On the last day they climbed as high as 3rd for the day but the loss of a track day left them in a still-admirable position when the track finally closed. They wanted to make sure the car was finally “right,” and it was. Drivers Austin Holmsley and Devin Valmores guided Solar Miner VIII through 88 penalty- and trouble-free laps, right at 300 miles, in two mostly cloudy days. That performance more than qualified Missouri S&T for the Austin-to-Minneapolis road race but weeks earlier the team decided to return home.
We support the team’s choice. Finances and a lack of road experience played a part in the decision, but the students recognized the real goal was to qualify with a good car and a good team, which they did.
These are young students, and they learned the value of team operations and successful communications. They came back fired up and are already planning the car that will run in summer 2016. In fact, they are considering renaming the team “reCHARGE” in recognition of what they hope is Missouri S&T’s return to top-tier, cross-country performance.
Oh, yeah, Michigan won the road race.