What a rough week it’s been. The team had planned on departing to Austin, TX on Thursday morning. But as luck would have it, we blew out our braking system on Zephyr while testing on Wednesday evening.
There were several fatal faults in both the design and implementation of the original brakes. ASC regulation states so that we must have a balanced, co-reactive, dual-braking system, in addition to a parking brake. The braking failure was simple– none of the brakes supplied enough braking power, and eventually blew out our master cylinders. However, the problems were complex– not only did we have to find a way to increase the braking power, we had to redesign and manufacture a system that fit in our incredibly cramped space at the foot of the driver. We faced severe time and design limitations. Since a faulty braking system was capable of causing serious damage to the car and the driver, our only option was to postpone our departure and fix the brakes if we wanted a shot at safely racing Zephyr.
Our members Jake, Sam, Tristan, Chris, and Kyle worked day and night, to design and implement a working braking system by Friday afternoon. It was incredibly stressful and tiring for everyone, especially the aforementioned designer / manufacturers of the new braking system. We bought out relevant components off of every nearby auto parts store we could find; worked in two machine shops for 48 consecutive hours; flew out a member to LA on a very short notice to optimize our modified journey from Berkeley to Texas; cancelled all reservations and made new ones; and many of us even left our full-time industry jobs early and commuted to Berkeley to help.
But as teamwork and resilience would have it, we successfully tested a braking test, stopping 65kmph-Zephyr with 5.1 m/s^2 deceleration. With the new brakes, Zephyr is projected to pass scrutineering, but members will continue to make adjustments to improve the braking performance for safety reasons.
As stressful as this week was, in retrospect it was good that we identified the problem prior to the race. This is why there is so much emphasis on testing— often times, it is the well-traveled solar car that will win the SunRayce instead of the flashiest solar car loaded with features. Had we encountered this problem during the race, we would have lost a lot of time to troubleshoot this on the road.
The crew is now on the road to Texas. Wish them safe travels!