40 Laps. 137 Miles. Under Full Cloud Cover

Not bad, not bad at all!

A near-faultless drive by Devin Valamores and Austin Homesly, and a very dependable car that vanquished The Hill.

The entertainment was on the straightaway and The Hill. Everywhere else it was “slow and steady” to keep energy consumption to an absolute minimum, because it was nearly impossible to wring power from the skies.

Despite a later start than most teams S&T climbed as high as #5 in the lap count before ending up #6 with 40 laps. Who’d a thunk a team that was on the ropes a year ago could storm back so strongly? Well, they did!

This team set goals. Arrive Check!. Work as a team Got It!. Qualify for the track race Yeah, Baby!. Turn 100 laps in three days. Very doable!

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. With a fully checked-out car, and an on-time start, 60 laps or more is well within their sights. And that would make it a clean sweep of the challenges the Miners set out to solve.

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Let’s not forget the efforts of our erstwhile crew of top-notch photographers who drive trucks and vans full of comatose students for days at a time. Who brave heat, rain, boredom, biting insects and loose dogs to bring you these amazing pictures.
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Due to their girth and horrible fashion sense, we think it better that we not identify them.

The Little Red Solar Car That (Finally) Could!

SIUESouthern Illinois University-Edwardsville is the underdog, the team everyone is pulling for. Rumor is they use an old motor that makes a heckuva racket, but that just doesn’t have the “oomph!” They’ve attacked The Hill over and cover again to no avail. Each time they rev up their machine, everybody takes notice. Each time, people surge forward to see if they’ll finally make it, only to be disappointed again.

Until a little after 1:00 this afternoon.

SIUE’s young woman driver made three runs in short order but then something changed. Same noise, same ponderous rate of climb, but the motor didn’t seem to fade, it just kept growling. Little by little, to the ecstatic cheers of their solar-racing peers it finally made it!

Since then SIUE has figured it out and she is turning lap after steady lap, turtles-and-hare style. The haven’t clawed onto the leader board, but the car works at last.

Good for them!

It’s Good To Be Back!

Hill42DSC_0283Hill? What hill?

Solar Miner VIII took the hill from hell as if it wasn’t even there. No 200-yard running start, no hesitating, no fear, just boys-will-be-boys pedal to the carbon fiber and jaws dropped all over the paddock.
pitsDSC_0312#42 has been running steady laps for nearly two hours now. A brief pit stop to check on things and it was back on the track. The support crew is basking in the glow of S&T’s return to top-tier solar racing. And they’ve grown a LOT as students, peers, and leaders in just the past two weeks.

The only dark cloud is the dark clouds. Rain swept through last night but grey skies show no sign of moving out. The Hill may have the last laugh this afternoon, as battery packs wane, and it becomes strategy, strategy, strategy. Like a few teams yesterday who drove around the course is what could best be described as a “crawl.” But once they hit the straightaway it was an all-out attack on The Hill. Most successful, some not. Just like today.

At Dawn They Ride!

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If the damned rain ever quits…………..

The Hill Of Death Eats Solar Cars

HOPD1DSC_0149HOD2DSC_0154_2Problem #1: Straight out of the pits is the Mt Everest of solar car racing. The Hill. Most teams entering the track have to go in the opposite direction, turn around, and get a 200-yard running start to have a good chance of making it to turn #1. The problem is Pit Lane is lower than the track and the slope starts sooner (and shallower) for cars already running at good speeds. A few unlucky teams had to use the “all hands on deck” plan to push their cars up the hill. On the other side of the coin is the new entrant from Iran, which has fielded a compact, four-wheeled screamer that just vaults up the hill. They’ve got a simple, inexpensive array mounting systems that has us saying “That’s genius! Why didn’t WE think of that?!”

Problem #2: It’s been cloudy all day.

#1 plus #2 equals real trouble for most teams

NEWS UPDATE!!! SMVIII just passed battery protection, the last hurdle before track time! That makes this trip a success with two days still to go. A long time coming!

It’s been four years since S&T managed to qualify for, let alone pass dynamics (see previous post), and they did that today. At day’s end they’ve healed their achilles heel and are bound for the track.

And that, Gentle Readers, is MINER PROUD!

S&T Clears Dynamics Test/What’s A Few Cones Among Friends?

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The Solar Miners squeezed through scrutineering with some difficulties, but got high enough marks to reach the dynamics (wet braking, figure eight, slalom and U-turn radius) events.

Drivers Austin Holmsley and Devin Valmores each had a crack at the events, and aside from radius turn, did just great. S&T has opted to eschew the 1,700-mile road race in favor of running a sound car only on the track, so judges waived that task, knowing that a track U-turn won’t ever happen.
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Devin did manage to nail a cone on his first slalom run but sailed through the second time. For his efforts Devin will be inducted into the Order of the Orange Cone, and his teammates will paint a small orange cone alongside his canopy.

Letha And The Beetle

It’s not always about the car. Sometimes it’s the little side stories that add the human spice, memories that will bring a smile years from now.

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Letha Young, Honorary Knight of St Patrick, has long been the Team Mom, student herder, fire warden, master chef, support van driver, and all-round great friend. And worthy adversary to a very stubborn beetle.

No YouTube video could ever capture the scene. Letha’s clean-up crew was sweeping up the garage when a large beetle emerged from some boxes. Letha took the broom and “guided” the beetle toward the door, giving it a final push well out into the pit lane. When the little hardshell finally stopped tumbling end-over-end he indignantly righted himself and headed right back to the garage as fast as his six legs could carry him.

As soon as he hits the threshold, Letha’s broom boots him some 20′ back out to the concrete, with the same results. This time Mr Beetle figured a diagonal approach might get him back under the cardboard so he headed for the corner. Nope.

By now students from two racing teams join the beetle-soccer game. No one wanted to step on the determined little critter, so they eventually grew tired of the game. By now Mr. B is probably back where he started.

Such is a day in the garage.

What’s A Solar Car Race Without Rain?

Endless 16-hour days are wearing on this crew, but out of the exhaustion has risen a quiet determination to get things done. No drama, no meltdowns, just an intense focus on the tasks at hand. Fix the battery management system, clear the dynamic tests, hit the track and start counting laps.
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Whatever cars do run today, speeds and distance will suffer. Heavy clouds, stifling humidity and storms sweeping in from the west mean teams are scrambling to waterproof critical systems. Rain-X on the windshield, trash bags for wheel well covers, and prodigious amounts of duct tape to keep it all in place.

Lap counts should be low this year. Scrutineering has been extended as fewer than half the teams have passed all the requirements to get on the track. The important thing is the Miners have come together as an effective team, confident of doing the job.

It’s Too Blasted Late To Write A Coherent Story!

So we’ll go with lots of photos and a few wisecracks.

News? S&T qualified for the dynamic tests but still have a few bugs to work out.

blog7:17DSC_9784 Easy-open top, perfect for those hungry bears when you drive through Glacier National Park!

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Transponder checking

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The Mt. Everest of solar car racing looms in the distance.

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Tired? Nah, I’m just resting my eyes.

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Dancing while you work.

Blog7:17SUN_0823 Back to your garage.

blog7:17SUN_0855 Under the hood.

Blog7:17SUN_0933 Reflected light helps, too.

That Constant Droning Sound

GrindingDSC_9727Visitors to the solar paddock could be excused for thinking that Texas-sized mosquitoes are swarming the site, but the constant buzzing comes from dozens of grinders, sawzalls, drills and Dremel tools.

Most of these schools have been in solar racing for years, but that doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made. Each year new students join and experienced ones graduate; the newbies get the chance to make the same errors as did their predecessors. Misinterpret rules changes, transpose measurements, forget to tighten all the fasteners, or make a panel too big, all foul-ups that come with the human condition, all things they have to learn to deal with in complex projects. And that means that remaking panels or grinding down fairings so your tires don’t rub.

Scrutineering continues today. Solar Miner VIII had a few problems and got some high praise yesterday. The ScruitneeringDSC_9482horn wasn’t loud enough, the rear-view camera was loose, and the headrest wasn’t up to par, but the Miners were stunned when the judges said S&T’s solar array wiring was the best of any car here. “Really? Our car? You sure about that? COOL!”

Today it’s battery systems and driver safety. Mods to battery controls are not uncommon, but maddeningly difficult to get right. Driver access, egress, cooling and visibility are all critical, but once made right allow the car to tackle the dynamic tests of braking and handling.
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Teams got a two-lap track familiarization tour this morning, in a caravan of support vehicles. Kinda fun to drive a beat-up 200,000-mile van around a real Formula One track, but it was business. Team leader John Schoberle narrated a videotape so drivers can have virtual practice runs tonight. Yes, a video game.