Solar team shines in US

The Solar Car team, standing by Mirage, prepares to race in the American Solar Challenge
The Solar Car team, standing by Mirage, prepares to race in the American Solar Challenge
Photo courtesy of Queen’s Solar Vehicle Team

With an unexpected crash on the first day of racing, the Queen’s Solar Car came close to pulling out of the 2001 American Solar Challenge, but rallied back and finished fourth.

Introducing their new car Mirage, the Queen’s Solar Vehicle Team was a favourite to win the cross-country race, which ran from July 15 to 25. Teams from around the world met in Chicago, Ill. and raced for 11 days along 3,600 kilometres, making it the longest solar vehicle race ever.

With years of international races under their belt already, the team felt prepared for the challenges they were to face in this year’s race.

“Our past experiences will be invaluable to us along this route,” Project Manager Jeff Bird said before the race. “We have already proven that we can perform on various types of terrain and under challenging weather conditions.” The race covered regions ranging from the Great Plains, the Great American Desert and part of the Rocky Mountains.

Driving along Route 66 from Chicago, Ill. to Claremont, Calif., the team raced through winding roads, steep hills, and scorching temperatures.

Checkpoints included Rolla, Mo. and Amarillo, Tex. Although 40 teams qualified for the race, the pack quickly dwindled within the first few days of competition.

The biggest challenge of the race was an unexpected one. With an hour to go on the first day of the race, rough road surfaces and a technical glitch caused Mirage to blow a tire near Litchfiled, Ill. The car lurched to the side of the road, and although the driver was unhurt, the vehicle sustained serious damage to its front suspension, motor, and electrical systems. Despite this near disaster, Queen’s managed to finish the day of racing in sixth position.

Working through the night in shifts, the team hurried to make Mirage driveable again. Even with this emergency effort, however, the team lost over five hours of racing time before setting off the next morning. As a result, the team dropped to 14th place by the end of the day.

After playing catch-up for five days, Mirage had fought its way back up ten spots to fourth place standing. The improvements of the new car and the determination of the team had shown that a nearly race-ending disaster could be overcome.

“We’re turning a lot of heads,” said Adrian Wong, the team’s business manager, as Queen’s became a serious competitor once more. When passing through Amarillo, locals came to cheer the team on.

“Some had heard about the accident...and many of them were offering support even though we’re not an American team,” said Wong. “They were very nice, decent people.” The most challenging stretch of road came on July 21, when the team travelled 320 kilometres through the Mojave Desert with temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. Along with the heat, the team drove through difficult mountainous territory. The car performed well, finishing this portion of the race with the second-fastest time. However, the high temperatures took their toll on the tires of Mirage. During the day the team performed a total of eight tire changes.

The final leg of the race began in Barstow, Calif. on July 25. The car was on its way just after 9 a.m. and raced to the finish line 175 kilometres away. Queen’s was the third team to finish the race, having swept past the overall third place team and Ontario rival University of Waterloo in the last stretch.

With a time of 62:55:11, Queen’s finished the race in fourth place overall. Michigan University placed first, followed by the University of Missouri-Rolla, and Waterloo.

Team members feel Queen’s comeback shows how ready they are for their next challenge, the world championships in Australia in November.

--With files from Pat Tanzola

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