Solar Car Team Beats Adversity to Finish Fifth
Principia College’s solar car team placed fifth last week in the American Solar Challenge (ASC), an eight-day, 1,700-mile road race traveling through seven states from Austin, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The strong finish was all the more remarkable after the car was nearly ruined between the first and second days of the qualifying rounds at the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin. Early the second morning, the team learned that an electrical fire in the garage adjacent to Principia’s solar car had set off emergency sprinklers, soaking Ra 9, Principia’s newly designed car. Team members arrived to find a dire situation. The car body was flooded with five inches of standing water submerging much of the electrical equipment and metal frame. In addition, soggy insulation from the garage ceiling had fallen onto everything, adding to the mess.
Urgently, yet calmly, team members went to work on what seemed like an insurmountable challenge—disassembling and rebuilding the entire car. Over the next several hours, they painstakingly dried and cleaned all parts, placing waterlogged components into diaper-lined tubs filled with rice in an effort to draw out the water. Laptops and other equipment were ruined, but important data had been backed up and was later retrieved.
The “Glorify” Steering Wheel
“Every member of the team confronted this crisis with focus and tenacity,” says Clayton Harper (C’14). “Ra 9’s steering wheel is imprinted with one of the program’s stated goals—‘Glorify’—and for those who witnessed what took place in that cluttered little pit, there could be no better word to describe the heart of a team that refused to give up on their car.”
Seven hours later, the car emerged onto the track to complete as many laps as possible during the remaining hours of qualification. “Ra 9 accelerated down the runway, up the first incline, and over the horizon with ease, as if nothing had happened,” Clayton recalls. After Ra 9 posted a respectable 13 laps in its hour-and-a-half appearance, officials ruled that Principia had earned a spot in the race, although the final lap tally didn’t meet stated qualifications.
Two days later, Ra 9 was at the starting line ready for the race. While the team faced several additional challenges along the way, nothing compared to the difficulty they had overcome in Austin. Team drivers and recent graduates Brian Ritter (US’10, C’14) and Kali McKee (C’14) took turns at the wheel, accompanied by others in the race convoy.
ASC Electrical Design Award
Along with its fifth place finish, Principia won this year’s ASC Electrical Design Award. “This was particularly significant because the carefully designed circuit boards really saved us during the ‘sprinkler event,’” McKee explained during a Principia Internet Radio (PIR) update. At the final race day banquet in Minneapolis, the team celebrated and said their farewells to race officials and other teams. Ra 9 team members also enjoyed what’s become a race tradition—a t-shirt swap among the teams.
“We deeply appreciate all the support we’ve felt from alumni, Principia friends, and team supporters who’ve donated time and materials,” said faculty member and team advisor John Broere (C’02) during the last PIR broadcast. Among those supporters are several College-area businesses that contributed time and expertise, as well as Siemens, which donated computer-aided design (CAD) software. Supporters also include the many loyal and enthusiastic alumni and friends who showed up along the race route to make sandwiches, cheer for the team, and provide moral support.
If you missed some of the nightly PIR updates or want to learn more about the building of the new car, go to College downloadable radio programs on the PIR webpage. Check out the Principia College Facebook page for photos and videos, and be sure to watch this month’s PrincipiaWire video about the solar car team.