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
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
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
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'
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
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
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
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.