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.
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.
Pulling out of Kalamazoo we knew that we still had quite a bit of distance to travel. The stage was a total of 450 miles, and we had completed 150. Without driving an additional sixty miles or more , we wouldn’t make it to Normal, IL, the next day. With that in mind, Jack hopped into Impulse raring to go, and we pushed on past Kalamazoo. As the day ended we found ourselves in Goshen, Indiana.
That night we stayed in Goshen, and as soon as we could the next morning, booked it out of Goshen starting the last 250 miles . Today, the second part of the stage, was when we really began to weather the weather. We pulled out and resumed our steady state speed of 35 miles per hour, and the heat began its assault. We saw temperatures greater than one hundred degrees fahrenheit, and severe heat warnings throughout the state. That heat, just like the rain earlier in the race became a fantastic piece of good luck.
If you haven’t read the earlier posts, go back and read them now.
It began to feel like Deja Vu. Just a short time into the drive we passed by MIT. An hour later, and we come upon Western Michigan who is traveling more slowly than we can afford if we are to make the stage stop. Long story short, most of which is endless cornfields, its now 4:45, and the team is about 10 miles out from Normal, IL. Through the day, we’ve kept up our 35 mph march across the stage, and other teams are falling behind. Finally at 5:02pm, we pulled into the Normal stage stop, where we can rest, but then it hit us, all those teams that we passed by on the way did not catch up, and we finished in third place for this stage!
After arriving we discovered the teams still out on the road found themselves in trouble as the temperature rose and their batteries began to overheat. Most of the batteries that the teams use require that they are only used beneath 60 degrees celcius or lower, and the American Solar Challenge requires cars to shut down if the cells overheat. In addition, right after we pulled out of Goshen, a rain storm hit. Every team that fell behind us was hit by one of those two things, overheating batteries or rain damage.
I simply cannot communicate the excitement that still flows through the team. A number of design decisions that may have hurt us in Australia has turned this rayce around for us. We have used the systems to their full capability. Our battery cooling system is one of them. We knew from the beginning that it was overkill, with several times the required volume of air flowing through the box at a time. That design decision was the reason that we were able to keep running where all the other teams fell. That, and good work by the team all around has propelled us all the way to third place for the stage!
The next couple of days as well will see our battery cooling put to work, and quite possibly other systems of the car. Tomorrow we expect to see rain, and heats continuing their slow march upwards. Tomorrow we start in Normal , with a checkpoint in Verona, WI and ending the stage on Friday in LaCrosse, WI.
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Update: We earned a snazzy trophy for our efforts in the Ann Arbor, MI to Normal, IL stage. Check it out!