Recently, we participated in both the 2021 Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) and American Solar Challenge (ASC) racing events.
As mentioned previously, FSGP is a three day track competition which serves as a qualifying event for ASC. Since we participated with Zephyr – our 10th generation vehicle – we competed in the Single Occupant Vehicle class, and ranking was determined by the number of laps completed. On July 30th, Zephyr got off to a slow start, completing over 25 laps with Annie Wang as our driver. The following day, after solving a short mechanical issue, the team recovered, completing 74 laps in total. This meant that to qualify for ASC, there were only 50 laps left to be completed on the third day. After finishing our third and final race day on August 1st, our team had completed 190 total laps, making us eligible to participate in ASC as well as placing us 5th overall!
Though the solar car runs on the sun, we were at a motorsports park which features some high-octane stations.
Work happens whenever people are awake!
Our brakes test went swimmingly!
In the scrutineering bay, prepping to be inspected.
Roll cage modifications in progress!
Morning charge, Day 3, FSGP 2021
Driver Erik Francis awaits directions to be guided out of the garage.
Inspections of our mechanical construction of the vehicle.
Not hot pit. Cool pit.
Media member William Ang snaps a shot of Zephyr on the track.
Zephyr crosses the FSGP finish line.
Hammering out final modifications. Pictured: Thomas Rich (left) and Michael Jia (right)
Zephyr & the team at the Heartland Motorsports Park after qualifying for ASC 2021!
As for ASC, they partnered with the National Park Service this year to commemorate the Santa Fe Trail – the route spanning from Independence, MO to Las Vegas, NM. As opposed to FSGP, the winner of ASC is determined by the total elapsed time it takes to complete this predesignated course. Starting the race on August 3rd, a couple days after the completion of FSGP, we set off in Zephyr through the checkpoint at Council Grove, Kansas and ended the day by completing a challenge loop in McPherson! On the second day, we managed over 200 miles, starting from exiting Dodge, Kansas to enter into Colorado. The following day consisted of a drive to Trinidad, where we trailered over the Raton Pass, and concluded our journey in Las Vegas, NM. The race ended with a final loop to Santa Fe, NM and back to Las Vegas, where our team finished in 6th. Considering all of the technical difficulties that were encountered during the race, we know what areas we need to take a look at and anticipate to improve at the next FSGP and ASC!
Hard at work with strategy and telemetry. Pictured: Yousuf Abubakr, Alec Dughi.
ASC display day picture; August 2, 2021.
Sometimes debugging and discussions happen on the side of the road. Here we see our driver egressing from the vehicle to catch a quick break. Pictured: Thomas Rich (left) and Annie Wang (flying).
Tire change in rural Kansas, Day 1, ASC 2021
Evening solar charging at Midway Motors in McPherson, KS. The morning and evening charges are critical to race performance, as solar cars need every bit of energy they can get to drive long distances during the day!
Loading into the trailer for fast transportation. There were a few mandatory trailer segments due to construction at the tail end of the second stage (Day 4).
Zephyr exiting the Las Vegas High School lot on the final day of ASC 2021.
Crossing the ceremonial finish line!
Left to Right: Ray Altenberg, Eatone Cheng, Alexander Zerkle, and Bryan Lim pose with Zephyr
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!
The CalSol Operations team conducted multiple interviews with organization leaders in an effort to show prospective members and sponsors who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do. Today, we would like to introduce you to our Mechanical Coordinator and Subteam Lead: Jorell Gotamco.
As a 3rd year studying mechanical engineering and material science, Jorell joined CalSol to gain more hands-on experience with major-related activities. That led him to the Mechanical Subteam.
“I just wanted to learn more and it had mechanical in the name, so I joined. Since then, the club has been one of the most interesting and relevant activities I’m interested in,” Jorell said.
Eventually working his way up to Mechanical Subteam Lead, Jorell is now in charge of the largest subteam in CalSol. The Mechanical team is broken up into the different systems of the solar car: shell, structure, suspension, brakes, steering, hubs, and batteries. Members learn, design, and cooperate in these teams, each of which is led by a project lead that reports directly to Jorell in weekly meetings.
After these meetings, the system teams split up in order to discuss more team-specific line items and do there best to address them. Frequently, these line-items are related to design reviews.
Said Jorell, “In terms of design reviews, we have multiple rounds starting from the preliminary one. The team comes together and presents their plans, we ask questions, and then the team readjusts. This process keeps repeating itself throughout the design process and eventually ensures that we build the best car possible.”
However, these design reviews serve a secondary purpose as well.
“A challenge we have had is knowledge transfer. When a member graduates and a new person takes up the task, there is always some stutter in the transition. It’s important we document these things on our design review presentations so that future members can understand what we were doing and make more progress,” Jorell said.
Other challenges Jorell listed included increasing the environmental sustainability initiatives within CalSol and organizing the facility where the club keeps and works on their cars. While CalSol still has much room for improvement as indicated by these challenges, Jorell credits the club for some of his own personal development.
“If I had not joined, there is a lot of content that I just would have never learned in class. I never covered how to design certain things and conduct analyses in class the way we do in CalSol, which is practical and valuable. There’s so much more that goes on in processes like manufacturing parts that I just haven’t learned in class yet.”
Also teaching Jorell team management skills and other soft skills, CalSol has helped the mechanical lead acquire unique practical skills that he says he would not have otherwise had. As an added bonus, some of Jorell’s favorite memories can be attributed to CalSol.
“When we were in Texas last year for the FSGP race, it was cool to see Tachyon do well on the track. There was this one relatively steep hill that solar cars would get stuck on and we were all waiting with baited breaths given that this was one of the first times driving Tachyon. Luckily, when Tachyon got to the hill, it went up and up and up and we were all like ‘Yes!!’”
In conclusion, Jorell believes that CalSol is an incredible learning opportunity that allows you to create, collaborate, and compete among a diverse community of engineers. He plans to continue on with the club as an engineering director next semester.
CalSol would like to give Texas Almet a huge shoutout for their donations that helped make our Tachyon the solar car it is today!
Texas Almet is one of North America’s leading producers in honeycomb components which are known for impressive strength without added weight overhead. In fact, the durable yet light honeycomb cells the company provided us with have been instrumental in improving Tachyon’s efficiency.
Once again, we would like to thank Texas Almet for the support!
Huge thank you to Recurrent Energy, a subsidiary of Canadian Solar, for the continuous support since 2013!
Recurrent Energy is a leading utility-scale solar project developer, delivering competitive, clean electricity to large energy buyers. Recurrent Energy has approximately 7 GW of solar and storage projects in development in the U.S., and the company is currently working on projects all over California and beyond!
Recurrent Energy has sponsored over $8,000 thus far to CalSol. We greatly appreciate your help!
The dust has settled on our trip to Australia, everyone’s back home, and it’s time to take a look at how things went! This was CalSol’s first appearance at the World Solar Challenge since 2011, and Tachyon’s first-ever road race, so there were lots of chances for exciting new things to happen.
While we made a lot of progress on Tachyon in Texas (and after getting home), we only had about a month between the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) and our ship-out date for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC), and we had to use a lot of that time switching Tachyon to comply with Australian regulations. Tachyon was still ultimately a new car. Its recent completion also meant it didn’t have license plates yet, so we couldn’t road test! Although we knew we had built a fundamentally sound vehicle, there will always be inherent uncertainty in competing in a road race with a vehicle only tested on the track.
Due to Darwin’s relatively small size, we found it was only feasible to ship our car to the south coast of Australia. This meant we needed to rent a trailer and a pickup truck , and trailer Tachyon across the race route in reverse to get to Darwin. (We ended up renting a “ute,” which I consider to just be an Aussie term for a pickup truck. I’ve been assured that there are differences, but I assume I’m just too American to understand.) We sent an “early crew” consisting of myself, Annie Wang, Avinash Jois, Eric Lu, and Lekha Duvvoori (Team Manager, Solar Driver/Operations, Electrical, Chef, Solar Driver/Mechanical, respectively) to Melbourne ahead of the race to get our shipping container cleared through Australian customs and then drive to Darwin. In addition, we were fortunate to be joined by Des Riessen, an Adelaide resident, firefighter, truck enthusiast, and all-around incredible person.
Due to our timeline, budget, and the large size of our car, the most reasonable choice of trailer seemed to be a flatbed. Many teams favor these; you simply roll the solar car on, ratchet-strap it down, and secure a tarp over it, and then you can drive off! Although an enclosed trailer does provide more protection, the walls would also restrict the car significantly, and we would likely have difficulty getting Tachyon in and out. Enclosed trailers of the width we would need are also much harder to find.
Unfortunately, the decision to use an open, flatbed trailer also comes with risks. We experienced this firsthand when our windshield, which was at the time constructed of two separate sheets of polycarbonate, failed near the beginning of our trailer trip. We’re not sure exactly what caused the break, but part of the smaller section of the windshield broke completely off. At highway speeds on the back of the trailer, a large amount of air was able to flow into Tachyon through the hole in the windshield, which was not a parameter we designed for. This airflow caused serious problems when it blew the roof off while we were driving! Tachyon’s solar array and the composite roof it was attached to were forced off of the main body of the car and landed by the side of the road. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Although the roof landed composite-side down, the fragile solar cells still took significant damage. In a more pressing concern, the structural part of the roof also split down the middle.
After this significant setback, we were very careful on the rest of the trailer trip. We got some canvas and a lot of foam to protect our remaining cells, and then used ratchet straps around the entire car to keep anything from moving. We also perfected our tarping technique so the tarps would not tear in the wind.
Once we made it to Darwin, we were able to reunite Tachyon and the early crew with the other 11 members of CalSol’s race crew, which drastically increased our work capacity. We immediately got to work fixing the roof, replacing damaged cells, and replacing the windshield, as well as making a handful of other fixes that we knew about before ship-out. We even tried to install a second battery pack to triple our range (Thank you so much to Octillion Power Systems for providing us with the modules!), although we unfortunately did not have enough time to make that particular project ready for this race.
The actual scrutineering process went very smoothly. We passed most stations quite easily, and most of the requested changes were relatively easy fixes. Even the notorious mechanical inspectors required no changes to be happy with Tachyon!
Dynamic scrutineering was similarly smooth sailing; our brake test in particular drew congratulations from the officials standing near me at the time. Tachyon successfully braked in less than half of the available space.
On the Road
For whatever reason, the BWSC event officials no longer keep granular track of how far the solar cars drive. The only measure of distance is how many stages are completed. However, by our own reckoning, we think Tachyon drove about 700 km on its own power, including more than 400 km uninterrupted in a single day. While there is certainly room for improvement, we consider this a definite success. The start of the racing period was dogged by overheating concerns and motor damage from a rock getting where it shouldn’t have, but we successfully overcame those problems to finish strong.
The public showcase period after crossing the finish line afforded us a valuable chance to talk with other teams after most of the stress was over. All of the world’s best solar car teams compete at BWSC, so this gave us ample opportunity to learn from our role models.
We learned a lot from our Australian adventure. As our first race in eight years not affiliated with the American Solar Challenge, it taught us how to navigate an unfamiliar competition structure and regulation environment. We also relearned how risky it can be to race with a brand-new car. In the future, we plan to leave more time between finishing a car and racing it, so we can have a proper chance to test it out and iron out the kinks. We have also resolved to rent an enclosed trailer whenever we can’t use our own, no matter what.
Most importantly, we talked a lot with our friends, old and new, on other teams. Many teams we saw had never gone to the American Solar Challenge, and others only rarely. This outside perspective really helped us challenge our preconceived notions about how to run the best team we can, and we’ll be putting some of what we saw into practice.
I would like to thank everyone who contributed to CalSol’s effort at this year’s BWSC. Foremost in my mind are the 16 people who joined me on the journey. Many took the entire semester off of school to be able to attend. Des Riessen, mentioned earlier, joined us when we needed another authorized driver for our ute on the trailer trip to Darwin, but ended up contributing in countless ways throughout our entire journey.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the incredible assistance offered by other solar teams; everything from pasta given by Onda Solare (University of Bologna), to a critically important vacuum pump we borrowed from Western Sydney University when we needed to wet layup (i.e. glue) our roof back together. This trip underlined for us the generosity and camaraderie in the solar car community, and I know that it at least inspired me to be more generous myself.
Speaking of generosity, I would also to thank our generous sponsors, without whom none of this would be possible. Included in this are last year’s crowdfunding donors, who specifically contributed to our WSC effort.
All things considered, this year’s BWSC was a very rewarding experience, and I’m honored to have had the chance to lead CalSol’s effort. I’m sure that when we go back, we’ll be able to do even better.
We did it! After a week of intense, around-the-clock work, constant discussions, and sleepless nights, we have finally finished racing Tachyon at FSGP 2019. We received SECOND PLACE in the MOV category, which is much better than we expected! In addition, we received the sportsmanship award during the awards ceremony! CalSol has worked so hard to get here, and we are so grateful for everyone who helped along the way.
Today, Tachyon has completed 25 laps around the track, currently in second place in the cruiser class! Click here to access live updates on FSGP team ranks, and we are also streaming the race on Twitch. Tomorrow’s our last day of racing, so we are going to be putting in our all!