What a Thrilling Finish to Formula Sun Grand Prix 2015!

There are no photo finishes in a solar car race. Be it a three-day track race or week-long road tour the winner usually emerges from the pack well before the checkered flag is dropped, so the real scramble is for the runners up. DSC_5761
Iowa State, which held on to the top spot ever since S&T’s spin out on day #1, ran a great car, had a great strategy, and were the best garage mates one could ask for. Congrats to the Cyclones!

By noon today the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th spots were pretty much set. Missouri S&T, in 4th place, checked the numbers and realized that there was no way the 5th-place team could catch them, and no way they could slip past #3. OK, it is what it is.

Suddenly, with less than an hour to go, things changed. Third-ranked Illinois State unexpectedly ran out of power and couldn’t get up the hill to turn #1; they were done. And the Miners looked at the numbers again….

If, just if, Solar Miner VIII could make three or four laps in the remaining 45 minutes they could snare the last podium honor, their first in ten years. They knew it was a long shot as the battery pack was marginal and the array was on its last legs, but they quickly calculated the most efficient speeds that would get them home and sent SMVIII back out on the track.

Hope springs eternal but hope lasted for about six minutes this afternoon, the time it took the Miners to complete a single lap. Solar Miner VIII’s farewell tour ended with the car just drifting into the pits, out of juice. The upset bid was foiled. So goes life.

They could have built a new car for this race but Solar Miner VIII was run for three years for a reason. They cut expenditures, use what they had, and built a financial foundation to “recharge” for the future. These undergrads knew their improvement had to come not on the track, but from organizational excellence, maturity and teamwork.
What the standings don’t show, is that the ’15 Solar Miners have coalesced into a force solar car alumn haven’t seen in nearly a decade. They are young, enthusiastic, and dedicated. They are efficient, work extremely well together, have fun as a group, and are hungry to reach the next level. And now they have experience.

NOW they will design and build the new car. This year they mastered the new battery system. They’ve squirreled away an excellent array rather than waste it on an old chassis, saving $60,000 in the process.

And they have succeeded in building the team, the system and the process that will return Missouri S&T to its rightful place in the pantheon of solar car royalty.

See you next year!