Atlanta, Georgia USA June 29, 1999 The first transcontinental solar-powered vehicle race was held in 1987 in Australia. General Motor's Sunraycer won the 1950-mile race by a margin of 620 miles in that inaugural event. The race, called The World Solar Challenge, was the birth of the Sunrayce program.

In 1990, 32 universities competed in the first U.S. event and the winner covered 1800 miles and averaged 24.7 mph! In 1993, the avg. speed rose to 27.79 mph, 1995 to 37.23 mph and in 1997 the average speed rose to 43.29. Top speed for the cars is reportedly 70 mph.

Sunrayce 99 is sponsored by General Motors, United States Department of Energy and EDS (Ross Perot's old company that he sold to GM).

The 1999 race started in Washington, DC on June 20 (the day before the summer solstice) and ended at Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida on June 30. 1300 miles were covered during this years race.

I was amazed at the similarites in this race and with sports car endurance racing, the series I normally cover. Both are endurance oriented and both are very high-tech. The starting grid at the left was similar to a sports car grid as there were team members surrounding their car and making last minute adjustments and changes.

Shown at the left, are the leading three cars in the five day endurance event. University of Missouri - Rolla was in the lead by 22 minutes over the second place car from Queens University. Five hours behind was the University of Minnesota.

The cars are built of a body covered with a large solar array, a small cockpit, various types of chassis, a battery for storing electricity, one high-tech electrical motor driving one wheel, and a large amount of electronics. Cars range from 740 - 800 lbs., including driver. The bodies are extremely aerodynamic, not so much for high speed, but for ultimate efficiency to move through the air at low speeds.

The solar arrays produce approximately 1000 watts of power and supply about 110 volts of juice. While the cars do not have tremendous amounts of acceleration, I heard one car spinning its power tire as it left on the wet pavement.

Like sports car racers, there are many different design philosophies in body shape, chassis construction and electronics.

One of the funniest things I heard came from one of the Sunraycer officials. She said that they were listening to a radio station on the way into Atlanta and heard a lady caller say, "I just want to let y'all know that I just saw a bunch of little spaceships going down the highway and they are heading your way!"

Friday, June 25 was designated as "Recharge Day" and the cars were given the top of a parking deck on the Georgia Tech campus. The cars in the photo to the left are 'sunning' themselves.

Teams separate the array from the chassis and orient the array to the sun while they work on the chassis, electronics and motor. Some teams even use their array as shade for their paddock.

The Georgia Tech Natatorium can be seen in the background to the left. That is where the 1996 Olympic swimming took place.

I observed carbon fiber chassis, double-wishbone independent suspension, advanced telemetry, sophisticated electronics, and incredible amounts of engineering expertise.

The cars are built for 'straight-ahead driving' and maximum efficiency while doing so.

Pilots are enclosed in roll cages and are required to wear five-point safety harnesses.

The event was barely publicized (reminds me of sports cars) and the crowds were thin as the cars made their historic start on Day 6 from the Georgia Tech campus.

I met a gentleman from Tokoyo that worked for a company that produced advanced materials. We shared an interest and appreciation of the high technology that we were seeing.

As the teams worked on their cars on Recharge Day, they had different parts of the Atlanta skyline behind them. Here, the team has the headquarters of a company that most people have heard of, Coca-Cola, just across the street.
Pilots are not awarded much space in the compact design.
Sitting at the front of the field, the leading team's pilot sits while the teams makes last minute adjustments. The crew was adding plastic to the inside of the wheel wells to keep road spray from the wet pavement from reaching the electronics of the car.

There is a certain amount of danger in driving these cars. The pilot is surrounded by a 1000 watt power station and has high voltage just inches away. And, some of these cars of capable of 70 mph.

The most terrifying experience for drivers is reportedly driving beside a tractor-trailer truck on the highway.

Carbon fiber tub with kevlar reinforcement, independent four-wheel double-wishbone suspension, Koni adjustable shocks, laptop computers and roll bars. Now where I have I seen that before? Possibly in sports car racing? There are many similarities.

The cars are rolling test beds for the students.

Space frame, tube frame and pyramid?? frame were present. Here, Yale College adjusts the angle of their array while the computer engineer, sitting, watches the charge meters to determine the optimal charging location.

The gentleman standing to the left with the tank and wand performs an important function. The photovoltaic panels are more efficient when they are cooler. While in the sun and charging, they heat up. The teams counter this affect by continually spraying distilled water over the array to cool it.

In this view of Atlanta, the tower at 11:30 is Ted Turner's tower for his first project, Channel 17, the Superstation.

Some of the cars are really very pretty as they hum along their track... the public highways. The cars are led and followed by a support group in vans.

One of the vans is loaded with electronics and monitors the performance of the solar vehicle and, in some cases, is monitoring the local weather conditions.

These cars are being built and raced by some of the brightest engineering students in the world. Lockheed-Martin is one of the sponsors for the #17 from the University of Pennsylvania.

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