UMSolar: Day 4

Submitted by Bronco648 on October 19th, 2011 at 10:02 AM

Race Day 4

Courtesy of Matt Nixon & Rachel Kramer

19 October 2011 – The Outback

I’ve been embedded with the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, bringing you updates from the Outback. They are competing in the World Solar Challenge. Tonight we have a report written by the team’s (always in motion) manager Rachel Kramer. Enjoy!

And as always, you can keep up with the WSC here


By Rachel Kramer

Approx. 1:00 PM – Michigan pulled into the “Opal Inn” control stop in Coober Pedy. As the first stop after crossing into South Australia, Coober Pedy is absolutely in the middle of nowhere. The town’s defining feature is the fact that it is surrounded by opal mines, which result in a landscape covered in hills of sand and red dirt that have been taken out of the ground during the search for opals. The trip from Kulgera, where Michigan camped last night, was nearly 400 km and the longest leg of the race.

Winds were extremely strong today, as the team discovered about 100 km short of the Coober Pedy stop. A giant gust of wind was able to open and remove one of the windowed fairings that typically cover Quantum’s front wheels and open only when the car is making a sharp turn. These “windows” are fairly large parts, so spares are not kept in the main caravan and the team had to wait several minutes for the semi trailer to catch up with a spare. Once a new fairing was placed on Quantum they were back on the road, but the gap between Michigan, Nuon and Tokai had widened to be more than 30 minutes between teams.

On the trip from Coober Pedy to the next control stop in Glendambo, bad luck hit Quantum again with just the wrong combination of cross winds and road train wakes to pull the window off a second time. This time the team was ready and made the fix more quickly, but significant time was still lost on the side of the road today.

We will finish Day 4 by camping in Glendambo, a town which proudly advertises a population of 22,000 sheep, 2,000,000 flies and 30 humans. Anything can happen in the last 591 km of the race, but we know we’ll need some luck to go our way tomorrow in order to beat Michigan’s previous records and place higher than third in the world.

Photos courtesy of Marcin Szczepanski, Multimedia Content Producer/College of Engineering, U-M


Early morning on day four of the World Solar Challenge. University of Michigan’s Quantum and Neon’s Nuna 6 charge their solar batteries in what has become twice daily ritual in Australia.    October 19th, 2011 The cars are about to cross over to South Australia from Northern Territory this morning.


The mood soured among the team as the University of Michigan’s Quantum pulled over on the side of the road to deal with a missing faring (wheel cover) that was blown away by the strong wind. Today was supposed to be the day of a big push on the side of the U-M’s team that planned on overtaking Nuna 6 and maybe even getting close to the #1 Tokai University’s Challenger that was 30 minutes ahead of both Nuna 6 and Quantum at the end of the previous day.  It’s day four at at the World Solar Challenge competition in Australia on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 The cars crossed over to South Australia from Northern Territory this morning.

Arrival Time at Coober Pedy

  1. Tokai 11:40
  2. Nuon 12:16
  3. Michigan 13:02

Next Control Stop: Glendambo (Times are UM Arrival, Darwin Time)

  1. Katherine 12:15 D1
  2. Dunmarra 16:20 D1
  3. Tennant Creek 11:36 D2
  4. Wauchope - Special 13:21 D2
  5. Ti Tree - Special 10:32 D3
  6. Alice Springs 13:15 D3
  7. Kulgera 16:41 D3
  8. Coober Pedy 13:02 D4
  9. Glendambo +254km D4
  10. Port Augusta +286km

"Status: Driving, en route to Glendambo. Holding P3. Trailing Nuon heavily due to 40 min. Fairing repairs." - Arrrggghhhh!!!! Angry UMSolar Hating Winds! Damn you.

For those of you that aren't quite sure what the "fairing" issue might be, I'll see if I can illustrate it. If you look closely at the image below, you'll see the (black) outline of a 'window' in the fairing (the fairing covers the wheel). The top, horizontal line can be seen just above the GM, Ford & IMRA decals. The left outline can be seen just to the right of the Roush and Vector decals. The right outline is the hardest to see, just to the left of the #2. Strong winds opened up the leading edge of the 'window' and was strong enough to rip the cover off, twice. These windows are in place so that the wheels can turn the vehicle. Otherwise the fairings would restrict the wheels and the turning radius would be about the same as an aircraft carrier.

umsolar click for larger


October 19th, 2011 at 10:22 AM ^

So the arrival time determines the amount of buffer between when each team leaves this location on the next day?  What is a "normal" spread in times for a race like this, is 82 minutes from first to third a normal thing, or is the leader far superior this year?  Additionally, how close are the reams behind U of M?  Is there a top-tier or "premier" group of schools/organizations that lead the pack and generally outclass the rest of the competition?


October 19th, 2011 at 1:12 PM ^ - Let's see if I can address your questions. The teams leave the start at intervals (I want to say 10 minutes). When you reach a control stop, you're motionless for 30 minutes. Otherwise, you're free to go as fast or slow as you want. It seems that Tokai has been averaging about 100 kph (~60 mph). Nuon and UM have been travelling slightly slower. The pace is dictated by the strategists. It's their responsbility to determine how long the battery charge will last, how much gain the solar array will provide (based on weather: sunny, partly cloudy, mostly cloudy, overcast) and the road conditions. There's a LOT to consider and account for.

I haven't followed any previous WSC events. But, the spreads range from a few minutes to several hours if not days. I would still call this a relatively tight race even with the gaps as they are this morning. Look how easy it was for Quantum to lose 40 minutes. All it takes is for a slight mishap and a 30 minute gap is reduced to nothing.

The rest of the field are hours behind the three leaders. IIRC, we're talking close to 200 km.

There is a Top Tier and the three cars at the head of the pack are that Top Tier. Tokai is the defending champ, Nuon is always very, very strong and UM is almost there, too. There is another Dutch team, Twente, that seems to be very good but had issues on Day1 and are suffering for it. Stanford is also in the race but doing poorly, which is kind of a surprise (same with MIT). In the American Solar Challenge, UM is the perennial favorite. Tokai is sponsored by Panasonic which should explain a lot. Their car is also very light.

@ferris: yep, trash tornado down under.

October 19th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

You mention the weight of the Tokai car.  I seem to remember reading an article a while ago, possibly posted here by you, about the UM Solar Car team's efforts to also significantly reduce their weight through the use of specialty fasteners, and composites/advanced alloys where applicable.  This is something that Tokai has emphasized or just has a higher capacity to design for maybe.

All very impressive for a student project.   I remember being on a student engineering team when I was in school that had a budget anywhere between 5k and 30k a year when I was in school, and being very envious of the hundreds of thousands available to the solar team.  If I recall correctly, they have their own facility and don't even use the Wilson Student Team Center.

Thanks for the info again.


October 20th, 2011 at 3:58 AM ^

The solar car team doesn't have their own facility...they are in the Wilson center with all the other teams. But they do have a very large section of the center.
<br>I'm on the newly formed Formula Hybrid SAE team, and we kind of got squished into a small corner of the solar car teams area and have to stay out of their way. Definately envious of their resources..


October 20th, 2011 at 5:23 AM ^

Solar Car is basically the reason the Wilson Center was renovated.

I know a lot of students are off put by Solar, but they are in a league of their own, and without the team and their success, the design teams would be stuck in the old Wilson Center. In fact Hybrid probably wouldn't have been given any space if it weren't for the renevation...

When I was on M-Fly we shared a cage with Autonomy and Mars Rover, so I'm happy with it all, and am glad new teams even got to form.


October 20th, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

I definatly wasn't complaining about the situation! I was just making that statement to demonstrate how much room they do have even though they are in the wilson center. Solar car has and will continue to do a lot for the university of Michigan and other student teams. I do think very highly of them--I thought the story I posted below about them was really cool and is a very good example of the character of their team, and u of m overall.


October 20th, 2011 at 11:42 AM ^

The Solar Car Team used to be off-campus at their own facility in Ypsilanti. The University wanted to get the team back on campus, which was part of the motivation for the major Wilson Center renovation. The current team, Quantum, is the first to use the new Wilson Center.

The new facilities are smaller (for Solar Car - bigger than they were for everyone else I think), but much nicer.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

I believe I posted that Quantum was able to remove close to 200 lbs. of extraneous weight. That's a huge amount of weight to remove from a race car, let alone a car that's as small as Quantum is. I do not know the total weight of Quantum nor do I know the original weight of Tokai (the car itself is actually named 'Challenger'). I do know that they were boasting of a 20 kg weight reduction before the race began. I'm going to guess that weight reductions are a major part of any solar car team agenda. Tokai may just be ahead of the pack in their ability to build strong, light-weight vehicles. I would imagine that advanced composities have a lot to do with that.

UMSolar receives an exceptional amount of corporate help and has many wealthy benefactors. I did not attend UM so I am not sure of their set-up. But, I believe you are correct, they most likely have their own facility. And, like anything @ UM, it's highly competitive to become part of the team.


October 20th, 2011 at 11:49 AM ^

I'm proud to say Michigan has a history of stuff like this. As much grief as UM gets for the giant semi trailer we take on races (which contains a mobile machine shop, freezers for prepreg composites, etc), I think it's rescued other teams morre often than Michigan. In '07 we machined a new axle for a Malaysian team, getting them rolling just in time to qualify for the race. We also offerred some motor components to a Venezuelan team whose motor and controller were hung up in international shipping (exactly what happened to MIT - their batteries went to Singapore instead of Australia).