U-M Solar Car Second in World Competition

Submitted by Ponypie on October 12th, 2017 at 5:15 PM

After finishing third numerous times, the U-M solar car took second, behind the Dutch, in this year's world challenge. The team used a new "monohull" design that involved a good deal of risk. Pretty serious accomplishment.

Here's the MLive link:


U-M has won the last six American challenges, and was the North American champion.



October 12th, 2017 at 6:58 PM ^

However I was raised near there and the wind and weather conditions make Ann Arbor seem like Miami in comparison on some days. The Michigan solar car would soon turn into the Michigan solar flying saucer. (I do love Holland MI though.) Great place to have a family - presupposing you can find a good job near enough and that whole side of the state still suffers.


October 12th, 2017 at 5:45 PM ^

For some context, the World Solar Challenge has been held every 3 years from 1987 to 1999, and every 2 years since (Total of 14 times).

The first race was won by General Motors. Since then, no American team has placed higher than third. (MIT matched 3rd place once, 2003).

Michigan placed 3rd in their first attempt (1990) and have participated a total of 11 times (all since 1990 except for '96 and '03). Of those, Michigan has placed 3rd 5 times ('90, '01, '05, '09, '11), twice being passed on the last day in the closing hours of the race (which is 1800 miles long and takes 4-6 days).

So 3rd place was something of a curse, for Michigan in particular but American teams in general.

Finally getting up to silver was a big deal - hopefully it won't take 27 years to take the next and last step up the podium!



October 12th, 2017 at 8:19 PM ^

Eh, it's been a mix of Tokai and Nuon since Tokai started racing back in '09. That year and '11, they beat everyone by at least an hour. Michigan actually finished just behind Nuon in '09 ( < 30 min). But this is the first time we've beaten Tokai.

We SHOULD have beaten Tokai in '15 (that one would have just been for 3rd). Got passed at the very end, only lost by like 4 or 5 minutes. And Tokai got an absurdly weak 15 minute penalty for literally running M's chase car off the road when they tried to pass into oncoming traffic. (On the same race, Punch got a 1 hr penalty for a driving infraction that wasn't any worse - WSC is not particularly consistent about rule enforcement).


October 12th, 2017 at 9:51 PM ^

I actually had to google that to see if it was really what happened. I thought you were just turning the 2015 MSU game into a solar car story (seriously, it’s like the same recap). I clearly am not over that game.

Has anybody claimed that the team is underperforming yet?


October 13th, 2017 at 2:16 PM ^

For those of you that do not know, "gbdub" and "M-Dog" are former UMSolar team members. Another consideration; three of this year's top 5 teams (Nuon, Punch Powertrain & Twente) are professional teams (this is part of their JOB). Tokai University is funded by the infinitely deep pockets of Panasonic. So, for Novum to finish second is no small achievement. Stanford finished 11 out of 12 teams in the Challenger class (same class as Novum). So, big ups to the Team! Go Novum. Go Blue.


October 13th, 2017 at 4:33 PM ^

The race started with more than 12 Challenge teams - this time around they changed the setup so if you missed a control stop, you were relegated to Adventure class. Due to the clouds and rain, this eliminated a good chunk of the original field.

It's not quite fair to call the other teams "professional" - they are mostly still university students, but they take more time off for the program and are generally supported more heavily by one large sponsor. Actually I'm not sure what the setup for all of them are exactly - Nuon is/was the one with an extended "solar car internship", I'm not sure about the others. I've heard but not confirmed that Tokai involves professors doing a lot more of the design work. They definitely aren't "professional" in the sense that the 1987 GM and 1990-93 Honda teams were.

Michigan is somewhat unique (among the high end teams at WSC) in having a team of almost exclusively undergrads, who take classes full time (except for the semester of the race itself), with very minimal input / oversight from faculty advisors and industry. They cultivate a very large group of sponsors, rather than court a single "name sponsor". This is a pretty typical setup among the American teams.  

That said, it's not like Michigan doesn't get a lot of help from the corporate world / industry (mostly manufacturing parts with capabilities not available on campus, some design review / refinement. They were given some machine-learning tech and consultation from IBM that the team refined as part of their strategy team. That sort of thing).

There are other (frankly less successful) teams that either by choice or necessity do a lot more "rolling their own", e.g. at one point Minnesota was (by choice) manufacturing their own motors (including windings) when at the same time Michigan was buying motors pre-made and having a sponsor custom-machine a case for it (to a Michigan student design spec).


October 12th, 2017 at 8:24 PM ^

Actually the race kind of turned on very cloudy (with a bit of rain) conditions on Day 3. Nuon, who was less than 30 minutes ahead of Michigan at the time, made a bold high speed push to get south of the worst cloud cover. The gamble paid off, and got them better conditions for the afternoon/evening of day 3 and the morning of day 4. That push got them a 2 hour advantage.

Not sure if Michigan could have matched (Nuon only just escaped the clouds, Michigan was 40 km north at the start of Nuon's pushm, had they not made it they would have been hurting), but without those clouds Michigan probably would have stayed in striking distance of Nuon. Maybe not a win, but at least it would have been tighter. Then again Michigan outplayed the 3rd-5th teams' strategies, so that would have changed too with better conditions.