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.
This race has been quite the adventure for all of us. Only one of our ASC crew had ever raced before, and none had raced in ASC or FSGP. As for myself (Alex Cuevas by the way, professional Impulse driver, nice to meet you), I got out of this race everything I had imagined and more. My experiences over the past month have been all over the map, including but not limited to:
- scouting out places for the team to camp completely on the fly
- buying, prepping, and cooking food for 7 to 14 adults with a single propane stove
- driving 8 hours a day for a week straight
- hacking last-minute additions to Impulse in order to pass regulations, sometimes with minutes to spare
- racing on an actual race track
- observing and interacting with other solar car teams for the first time
- driving Impulse on public roads at the speed limit through torrential rain and 100 degree weather
- blowing bubbles with the Iowa, Oregon, and Montreal teams
- navigating for the caravan while simultaneously operating Ham and CB radios and using my cell phone
- passing University of Michigan’s solar car
- taking infinite pictures of cars, locations, and people
- having ridiculous amounts of fun while learning all the time
I’m sure many of my teammates have had similar experiences. ASC 2012 has been a wild ride, and I think we are all a little bit surprised and extremely proud of ourselves that we not only made the entire journey on solar power alone, but we also placed 4th out of the 16 teams who showed up to scrutineering, 12 of whom qualified for ASC.
If you look at the top five cars, it’s easy to see which one is the odd one out in terms of quality of construction – Impulse, while functional, certainly leaves a lot to be desired in the technical precision department. But that is a good thing. It means that we have room to grow, to expand, to take what we’ve learned and push our team to the next level. We placed among the top teams in the nation despite numerous apparent flaws and suboptimal hacks on our car, while the other top cars are ridiculously precise and professional in their execution. To me, this shows that our design philosophy and analytical skills are solid – we are simply a little rough around the edges. I don’t know how much of our ultimate success can be attributed to luck, but I do know one thing for certain: for every single flaw that I have observed in Impulse, either I personally know how to improve upon it, or I know someone on the ASC crew who can. CalSol has nowhere to go but up, and the crew who competed here will help form the foundation of the team moving forward.
In the wake of our exciting 4th place finish at ASC, we CalSolers will have our hands full discussing the events of the race, reviewing notes, conducting meetings, and having serious conversations about the future of CalSol and what our next step is going to be. We originally set our sights on ASC 2014, but what sort of car will we make for it? Do we want to compete in FSGP 2013, which is going to take place in our homeland of California? How will we use our new-found race experience to advance our car and our team? These are all questions that we as a team need to answer, and I for one can’t wait to try.
You have not seen the last of CalSol. Our next car is going to be more technologically advanced, more optimized for efficiency, and more skillfully executed than anything we’ve attempted before in our team’s history. Although ASC 2012 is over, this is only the beginning.