2020-2021 Recap, Off to FSGP!

By Jessica Lee

In light of our upcoming summer races, the CalSol Operations team is reinvigorating our blog section to give important updates on our progress within the last year and future plans in preparation for this big event.

To recap, our entire club moved to a virtual setting due to Covid-19 last year. However, our team has continued our work on Excalibur despite the change in operations.

We wanted to take a moment to thank anyone who donated during Big Give, as well as our new and existing sponsors for all of their support. We really appreciate it, and we have been hard at work last year using all of the resources you have provided!

On the more mechanical side of things, there has been significant progress on the design of Excalibur – our 10th generation vehicle. In the face of temporarily losing access to our workspace and our team dispersing across multiple time zones, we had to restructure our collaboration and determine new methods to prototype components of the vehicle. 

The mechanical team was able to set up online meetings and design reviews with Ford and GM to get industry opinions that improved the vehicle’s design. Using these resources, they not only finalized component designs, but conducted analysis and incorporated designs that were brand-new to CalSol. 

These include, but are not limited to deeper aerodynamic analysis on vehicle stability, integrating composite materials into our suspension, and pioneering new methods of mold manufacturing to allow for safe and efficient workflows. 

Our electrical team has mostly been doing new member training and some test bench work this year. While they’ve been doing some new system design, most of the boards have not been changed significantly.

Lastly, the solar team has done a lot of remote design. They finished laying out the modules, and worked with Gochermann – a German manufacturer of custom solar arrays – to manufacture it. It has already been delivered to the RFS, where it is currently waiting for integration.

We ended our year by sending off many of our seniors, including: Alexander Zerkle, Annie Wang, Ray Altenberg, Eatone Chang, Derek Chou, Landon Labuskes, Geoffry Ding, Owen Li, Meghana Bharadwaj, Jeff Alderfer, and Emily Han – who will provide vital help as alumni during our upcoming races, FSGP and ASC.

This year, we will be competing with our single-occupant vehicle Zephyr, CalSol’s 8th-generation solar vehicle. The vehicle was first raced in 2014, then subsequently in both FSGP and ASC in the following years, and has now racked up nearly 7,000 total miles driven. In 2017, the vehicle placed first at FSGP, and later in 2018 the vehicle placed second. We hope that this time it will achieve similar results!

The Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) will be occurring late July to early August, and is an annual track competition held on a closed race course. The race event will be preceded by a scrutineering period in which the solar cars will be rigorously checked for safety and regulatory compliance. The track event will be a three-day affair—most laps wins! It also serves as the qualifier event for the American Solar Challenge (ASC), which we hope to attend as well. To qualify, teams must complete 330 km in one day, or 495 km over two consecutive days.

The American Solar Challenge will take place right after this event, typically a 1,500-2,000 mile cross-country race that lasts nearly a week. This year, it will span from Independence, MO to Santa Fe, NM. Due to the varying and unpredictable driving and weather conditions, driving strategy in this race is vital. Thus, not only is ASC intended to test the reliability and fortitude of a solar vehicle, but also the team’s creativity as they must be resourceful to solve any issues that may arise along the race. The winner of this race is determined by the total distance driven—although there is a predetermined route, it includes loops which may be driven any number of times to rack up mileage. In addition, some teams may trailer for part of the route, which does not count as distance driven.

The decision to participate in this event was made recently, and the team is rigorously making the necessary preparations. The Operations team has to manage many aspects of race logistics including race shirt design, building a race crew, figuring out lodging and food, updating our social media and website, and other logistical tasks.

Our engineering subteams look forward to checking on Zephyr and making sure it’s race ready once we get access to our workspace, RFS, in mid-June. In general, our focus this year is less on the vehicle, which has raced before, and more on familiarizing members with the race experience, both before and during the competition. This will include training new drivers at RFS and doing road tests to prepare for ASC. 

We plan to continue working on Excalibur molds in parallel as CNC-milled foam arrives from WeCutFoam.

Although we still have many arrangements to be made, team morale and excitement are high as many newer members look forward to their first race experience, with many of our graduates this year still being able to assist us. We are looking forward to doing well at both FSGP and ASC and will continue to give updates of our progress!