UT’s Solar Car Team has been trying to a win a solar car race for more than a decade. This year the team has a $50,000 donation in their arsenal, an advantage team members hope will help them win the Formula Sun Grand Prix this summer.
Bobby Epstein, chairman of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas racetrack, announced the donation of $50,000 to the team, which will help purchase critical parts for the roughly $100,000 solar car, called TexSun. Epstein said COTA made the donation because it wants to be involved in supporting a local effort to develop the cars of the future.
UT officials say the donation from COTA has revitalized the team, which often struggles to find money to buy materials. Working on this car also allows students to have a hands-on educational experience they won’t find in the classroom, officials said.
“What we’re trying to do is be a little forward-looking and showcasing what may not be today’s fastest vehicle, but a precursor to the future,” Epstein said. “A lot of the technologies that come out of Formula One you see in passenger cars 10-20 years later.”
UT is the local host for this year’s Formula Sun race, when university students race their own self-made, solar-powered cars against one another, to be held on June 24-29. The car is expected to run at 40-45 mph.
Led by electrical engineering professor Gary Hallock, the team is made up of roughly 50 students, most of them engineers but also from other disciplines, including liberal arts and natural sciences. The team meets weekly to work on building the car and developing programming.
Hallock, who has been the team’s faculty advisor for more than a decade, said funding has always been difficult and limited the team, forcing it to pinch pennies and buy parts, even engines, that may not be the best but are cheap.Half of the budget is made of donations, Hallock said. Some donations this year include Nomex honeycomb panels, which will be used to construct the body of the car, that run at about $1,000 per panel, he said.