Solar cars make pit stop

Angela Peacock

Stop-and-go driving has an all-new meaning when the automobile being driven is powered by nothing but the sun.
Tucumcari is just past the half-way mark for 20 solar-powered cars in the 2,300-mile American Solar Challenge, which began July 13 in Chicago and will end after the last car crosses the finish line Monday in Claremont, Calif.
The teams had to stop at Tucumcari’s Mesalands Community College for 30 minutes to make tune ups and recharge their solar batteries before going again on their way to finish the race.
Each car entered in the race is designed and built by teams from universities, companies and organizations around the world.
The opportunity to watch various ASC teams cruise their light-weight vessels covered with solar cells through Tucumcari has struck quite in interest in technology for local teenager Tomoko Bahrs. She said it’s amazing to see people turn the sun’s energy into electricity and then be able to use that electricity for something as useful as driving across America.
“It’s just too bad solar cells are so expensive because if they weren’t more people could afford to drive them,” she said. “It would be a lot better for the environment.”
Chris Powers, spokesperson for race sponsor Department of Energy, said it usually takes teams two years to construct a solar car capable and safe enough to race across America.
“There is quite a strategy to (solar car racing,)” Powers said. “The lead changes many times and the teams are extremely competitive.”
Just because the solar cars have been approved for the race doesn’t give any guarantees that teams won’t run into any technical problems along the way. Justin Bishop, a system design engineer major at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada), said his team was cruising in first place during the first stage of the race until they had to replace a motor.
Despite daytime temperatures of well past the 100-degree mark some days, official race observer Sue Robb said the students participating in this event are well prepared.
“These teams are in excellent condition,” Robb said. “There is a breeze that comes through vents in the car to cool off the driver and with the heat being so intense each team switches drivers frequently.”
“If you have sun or not determines how much progress you can make in a day so you have to know how to manage your power,” said Mike Torrentine, a race official who was on the University of Missouri-Rolla’s 2001 racing team.
“The DOE sponsors this event for two reasons: to inspire young people to be scientists and engineers because we don’t seem to have as many people interest of those fields as we used to and we need them if this country is going to be competitive,” said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham in a DOE press release.
“Also we do it to show people solar power really works.”