CalSol places 4th in the 2012 American Solar Challenge

The results are in, and CalSol has officially placed 4th in this year’s American Solar Challenge! Although we had already largely predicted this outcome based on the events of Stage 5, having our accomplishment set in stone means a lot to us. This is a huge step forward for CalSol, as we have proven that we can be competitive on the national stage.

All of the teams who completed ASC 2012, after the awards ceremony. I'm one of the guys holding up the ASC flag.

The Return Trip: Fast and Fun

Yellowstone National Park Lower Falls
Yellowstone National Park Lower Falls

On Monday July 23 we visited 3M’s facility to speak with them about all of their new technologies that could help us build our next solar car. We found many intriguing new tapes, velcro’s, adhesives, and coverings that we will definitely be integrating into our future projects. Thanks again 3M for inviting us to drop by!

That event finished up around 1pm and we decided to get going on our return road trip. 250 miles later we ended up in Fargo, ND. The place that we stayed at had an indoor pool which was well used by the team members that night. Not the most fascinating city, so we got up early the following day and set out for a long long long day of driving.

We completed 600 more miles along highway 94 which took us to Billings, MN. That drive was one of the most beautiful scenic drives that we have had in the last 5 weeks. Montana has the prettiest landscapes and scenery by far. We all couldn’t stop taking photos because each ravine, mountain, and plain was just stunning! All in all though this scenic drive was just a way to get us closer to our true goal: Yellowstone National Park.

ASC Stage 5: To St. Paul

Stage 5 of ASC: 150 miles from La Crosse, WI to St. Paul, MN. It seemed simple at first. Since we’d been driving 200+ mile stretches of road for most days before this, this seemed like it would be a relatively simple day. Except when it started raining.

Driving 59 mph in the rain!
On the last day, we started with a full battery pack, so the rain wasn't too much of a big deal for us.

Our strategy from the days before thankfully allowed us to start this day with a full battery pack, but since Stage 5 was a so-called “sprint” stage, we would be driving Impulse at highway speeds for good portions of the route.

We set our target speed at 59mph and blazed through the portion of the route that had us driving on the I-90, passing several surprised teams along the way. Partway through that segment, a surprise for us: The University of Michigan was pulled over on the side of the road! The radio chatter through our caravan was both confused and delighted: We had actually never seen their car on the road before – we would always see them at the start line, and then at the finish line, with nothing in between. Seeing them pulled over, making repairs to their car, really drove home the point that the rain affects everyone.

In the middle of the stage, we slowed down to reduce our power draw to save up for the large hill that was to come at mile 100. Long story short, the hill was no match for us, especially when the sun came out around that time. We increased our target speed to 62mph and set our sights on St. Paul. 

ASC Stage 4: Wisconsin Roads

Following our third place finish in Normal, IL, another stage loomed in front of us: Normal, IL, to Verona, WI, to La Crosse, WI. Our strategy from the days before seemed to be working quite well, so we decided to apply that same strategy to this stretch: drive sustainably, such that our batteries neither gain nor lose charge, such that we could net a gain over the evening and morning charging hours. This way, we would also be somewhat protected from bad weather conditions, since if the sky decided to be cloudy, we would have battery power left to use.

Indeed, the weather became cloudy halfway through the first day of Stage 4, and our strategy paid off. We made it comfortably to the checkpoint in Verona, WI around 4:30PM, and achieved a nice 1-hour break in the cool, cloudy weather. Some other teams weren’t as lucky, however, since the combination of the heat and clouds from the previous days had caused them to drain their batteries, making this stage tougher to weather.

Run, Forrest, Run!
Since the road conditions at the checkpoint were terrible, we were allowed to push the car out of the checkpoint area to the start area.

Leaving the fully cloudy checkpoint, we made it just 10 miles out of the checkpoint before it became apparent that it would be uneconomical to continue on. We decided to try to find a large parking lot to set up for the night and for the coming morning.

ASC Stage 3 – Whether you Weather the Weather + Update!

The last two days of raycing, July 17th and 18th has been the third stage of the American Solar Challenge. This stage began in Ann Arbor Michigan and ended in Normal, IL. It has been quite the exciting trip, and as its the best place to begin, from the beginning.

CalSol at Goshen, IN

The day began beautifully. Ann Arbor was a wonderful town with a bunch of crazy people excited about solar technology and vehicles. We had breakfast courtesy of Black & Veatch, and began the day at 9:04, in accordance with our fifth place position as of the day before. We started out to some issues with our battery ventilation, and fell back a few positions. While dealing with that issue, several teams passed us, as it was so close to the beginning. We spent the rest of the day traveling at 35 miles per hour, which we’ve discovered to be our “steady state speed” over the past few days. We can travel, given good weather, at 35 miles per hour forever. The day proceeded, getting steadily warmer, and we were driving steadily farther. Before we knew it, we were 150 miles down the road, and arriving in Kalamazoo, the home of Western Michigan University, and our new friends, the Sunseeker Solar Vehicle Team. Plus it was over one hundred degrees. A quick hour of charging, impound and lunch and we’re back on the road at 4:08, the ninth team to pull out of the checkpoint that afternoon.

ASC Day 3 – Another Day Complete

Sorry for the late blog post but racing has kept every one of us busier than we could ever imagine. We did want to keep everyone up to date on what has been happening though!

Finish line of day 3 in Ann Arbor
Impulse crossing the finish line of day 3 in Ann Arbor

We began the day in Mansfield, Ohio in a parking lot at Ohio State University with Oregon State with us. We cooked our oatmeal, we made our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we charged the battery up as much as we could. This is our basic process every morning of racing and it went off without a hook.

ASC Day 2: Through the Rain and the Wind

Yesterday, we drove 161 miles from Rochester, New York, to Erie, Pennsylvania, cautiously setting our speeds since the forecast wasn’t very pretty — most of our sources said that there would be rain and thunderstorms. But as the day wore on, it became evident that there would be no storm at least for the time being. We still proceeded with care through the stage, monitoring the charge on our batteries through telemetry in case the evening and morning solar array charging times didn’t give us enough to sustain ourselves on the upcoming 214-mile journey.

The efforts paid off immensely. This morning, we woke up at 5:30AM to a giant thunderstorm, and though the rain had let up by our charging time at 7:00AM, there were clouds all around, and it was moderately raining by the time we started driving at 9:02AM. Despite a few pullovers for various issues, such as to check the weatherproofing that we hacked together the evening before, Impulse ran surprisingly smoothly through the thunderstorm in the morning, only picking up maybe a gallon of water, while a few teams were unfortunately pulled over due to spinouts.

Impulse in the rain
The thunderstorm in the morning was far from ideal, but we were fortunately able to pull through.

CalSol has qualified for the American Solar Challenge!

We have completed a total of 106 laps today, earning us a spot in the American Solar Challenge 2012!

Driver party at the finish line!

Keep following us on here and on Twitter for status updates on the American Solar Challenge.

Tearing Up the Track – Formula Sun Grand Prix Day 2

Impulse of Monticello Motor Club's South Track

The picture says it all. Passing scrutineering yesterday and fixing the little glitches in our array left Impulse in 100% working order and ready to fly onto the track this morning. Today has been a wonderful day with beautiful weather and everyone’s spirits are high with Impulse out on the track.

Formula Sun Grand Prix Day 1 – Passed Scrutineering!

The Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) has begun! Day one of racing is finished and you can see all of the teams’ progress here: at the bottom of the page

Impulse waiting for an all teams photo
Impulse waiting for an all teams photo

We have been working around the clock to solve issue after issue with both the regulations and performance of Impulse. Our biggest problems were the dynamic braking test and the horn test, that was all that was stopping us from racing.

Well after some deliberation with Oregon State University (Thank you so much for the help!) and the two mechanical scrutineers we came up with two solutions to the braking test and both worked! We took the better of the options and moved forward with the horn.