ad info
   personal technology

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

CNN Websites
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines

 message boards




Missouri team slogs to solar car finish line

Yale car
A University of Pennsylvania student pushed his team's car on Friday to an advantageous solar collection site during a break in Atlanta  
Automobiles of the future

June 29, 1999
Web posted at: 7:04 p.m. EDT (2304 GMT)

By Robin Lloyd
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- Slow and soggy wins the race.

That could be the motto for Tuesday's winners of Sunrayce '99, a 1,300-mile race for solar cars designed by students from some 40 colleges in the United States and Canada. The race is biennial, and this year featured rain on all but two of the nine racing days.

A team from the University of Missouri-Rolla came in first with a total elapsed time of 56 hours and 16 minutes, relatively blazing across the Orlando finish line at 40 mph after a burst of Florida sunshine gave them their first direct solar rays in the past two days.

"We played it kind of conservative this morning because it was still cloudy and there was a little bit of drizzle," said team member Brad Meyer, 19. "Then we actually saw some sun and shadows and we were able to increase our speed."

Queen's University, of Canada, and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, of Indiana, came in second and third, respectively. The Queen's team was just a minute behind the Missouri team Monday, but was unable to catch up following a 15-minute penalty that day for failing to wait for an inspector after a 360-degree spinout from hydroplaning.

Meyer said his team started off the race with confidence.

"We knew going into this that we had more than 2,000 test miles going into race," he said. "We knew how our car would perform going into other kinds of weather. We knew other teams didn't have that luxury. For most of them, the first day of the race is their test mileage."

Leaders relied on strategy, not sunshine

Most days, the Missouri team's competitors needed a tow to make it to the finish line. Monday, the rain equalized everyone, forcing even the Missouri team to ride in on a trailer. The team's average speed throughout the race was a pokey 25.3 mph.

UPenn car
University of Pennsylvania team members angled their solar array Friday during a break in Atlanta to maximize their collection of rays  

Ever since the low-slung, glossy cars rolled off the start line in Washington, D.C., on June 20, the teams from Missouri and Canada stayed in the lead by relying more on strategy than sunshine.

"We wouldn't be winning necessarily if it were all sunny days," said Mike Hunter, a University of Missouri-Rolla student, during a rest day in Atlanta on Friday. Hunter helped as his teammates wielded a blow dryer to fry rainwater out of their car's solar-collecting tiles to prevent short circuits.

"If the sun is just beating down on you, there is no strategy," Hunter said. "You just go 55 mph and zoom. It's not that glamorous, but we're putting along at 20 mph and speeding down the hills to get ahead."

The race, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, EDS and General Motors, ended at Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The entrants traveled through five states on highways and country roads, pausing for pit stops and overnights.

Why solar?

The DOE sponsors the race to educate students about teamwork, engineering and organizational skills, as well as to let people know about up and coming technologies that depend upon "renewable energy," such as the sun, said George Douglas with the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

"While no one is going to be driving one of those little solar cars," he said, "the ideas that the students get and then can incorporate when they go on to work will be the future of transportation."

A handful of states nationwide now mandate that a certain percentage of automakers' fleets for sale have zero or lower emissions, and the U.S. EPA currently is holding public hearings to tighten its emissions standards, Douglas said.

Wind, rain or tow

Enough energy falls on the Earth's surface each minute to meet world energy demand for an entire year, Sunrayce sponsors say. But with a total of three hours of sunshine along the Sunrayce route for its first five days, the best batteries, streamlined design and photovoltaic cells for converting solar rays into electricity were for naught.

Teams with battery conservation experience from past races did better.

The Queen's car looked like many of the others -- a vibrant blue blanket of sunshine-collecting tiles, all in the shape of an ocean-going skate or ray, set atop a chassis seemingly held together with electrical tape and chewing gum. Despite being clipped one day by a truck driver who failed to see the low-riding vehicle, the Queen's team knew it had a smart approach.

"A lot of it has to do with how you drive the car, knowing how to run hills, knowing how to run in cloudy weather, knowing how to make the best use of the energy you have at your disposal," said Milos Popovic, 22, with the Queen's University team.

Sun worship

Missouri car
Louis McCarthy of the University of Missouri-Rolla team in mock prayer as sun splashed briefly on the team's solar array during a break in Atlanta on Friday  

The Queen's car and its competitors were given a much needed day of rest Friday to gather what sun they could atop a parking garage at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

No rain fell at midday, but the sun peeked through only briefly from time to time, prompting cheers, scrambling and mock-worship from some of the participants.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said Queen's team member Matt Dawson, 22, as team members raced to a laptop wired to the car's battery to see if there were any difference during one appearance of sunshine. Others tilted the car to put it exactly perpendicular to the sun to optimize its collection of solar rays.

Missouri team member Louis McCarthy, 21, turned his face and hands heavenward in mock prayer when some sunshine splashed down briefly on the parking lot.

A number of students caught a few winks on the concrete between cars Friday as racing days start at 6 a.m. and extend to as late as 9 p.m. After that, students park their cars, find their hotels and pass out, only to rise again for the next 6 a.m. start.

Addicted to solar

Rather than blow dryers, some teams relied on even lower technology Friday -- towels.

"We were sopping the puddles out of the car this morning," said Reuben Rohrschneider, 22, of the University of Michigan team. But he said he's hooked on solar cars.

"Something like this, it's honest-to-God engineering and something you can really see at work," Rohrschneider said. "That's not something you usually get in college."

Besides, he added, "it's a competitive sport."

First U.S. fuel-cell car hits the road
April 29, 1998
Will solar energy come into the mainstream?
December 8, 1997

  • Welcome to Sunrayce
UMR Solar Car Team - Sunrayce 99
Queen's University Solar Vehicle Team
Rose-Hulman's Solar Phantom Online
U.S. Department of Energy Home Page
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Enter keyword(s)   go    help

Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.