Race is On for Best Solar Car of 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 1:00pm

Beginning Monday, July 14, the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin will host the nation’s two biggest collegiate solar car races — the Formula Sun Grand Prix and American Solar Challenge. About 20 student solar car teams from universities across the world including The University of Texas at Austin, MIT, Stanford University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences, will be in Austin to compete in the two back-to-back competitions.

The student teams design solar vehicles that use photovoltaic panels to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. These solar-powered cars can reach speeds of 40-50 miles per hour using only 1,200 watts of power — about two-thirds the amount of power it takes to run a hair dryer.

“We are thrilled to host students and faculty from across the world as they participate in these competitions,” said Sharon L. Wood, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “These races reinforce the skills and knowledge our engineering students gain throughout the year and offer them an exciting opportunity to design, build and test their technologies.”

For the second consecutive year, the Cockrell School and its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will host the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) F1 racetrack July 14-19. The Formula Sun Grand Prix begins with a series of qualifying events and inspections, called scrutineering. Only teams that successfully pass scrutineering can move forward to compete in a three-day endurance race on the COTA track. The team that logs the most laps after the three-day racing period wins.

In order to qualify for the next competition, teams competing in the Formula Sun event must complete a minimum number of laps at a minimum speed. This is so the team’s solar cars demonstrate that they can safely function on the highway during the American Solar Challenge.

After Formula Sun, the teams will have a one-day break to gear up before embarking on the more than 1,100-mile drive from Austin to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the American Solar Challenge, July 21-28.

A cross-country road race, the American Solar Challenge is intended to test the reliability and endurance of the solar cars’ systems, in real-world driving conditions and weather. The team with the fastest elapsed time for completing the route is the winner.

The UT Solar Vehicles Team sponsors are: COTA, Clay Cooley Nissan on Austin South, Fluor, Freescale Semiconductor, GM, Lockheed Martin, Plantronics, Schlumberger, SunPower, Texas Motor Sports, Texas Solar Energy Society, Union Pacific and the University Co-op.

Before the teams begin their journey for the American Solar Challenge, there will be several events open to the public, both at the COTA track and on the UT Austin campus:

July 19: Formula Sun Grand Prix Public Day at COTA

The public is invited to COTA to view the race, see sponsor booths and participate in activities for children, including building solar cars, solar radio control car racing and more.

Location: COTA, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.

Time: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

July 20: Public Display Day

The public can view cars up close and talk to teams.

Location: UT Campus Parking Lot 104

Time: noon to 4 p.m.

July 21: American Solar Challenge Starting Line

The public can watch the beginning of the cross-country race.

Location: UT Campus, outside F. Loren Winship Drama Building, 300 E. 23rd St.

Time: 8-9:30 a.m.