In a bid to defend its solar car racing championship, the University of Missouri-Rolla Solar Car Team has finished fourth in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge. UMR’s Solar Miner V arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Wednesday, completing a 10-day, 2,500-mile journey that started July 17 in Austin, Texas.
Pending any late protests, the University of Michigan is the 2005 winner, followed closely by the University of Minnesota, which also finished second in 2003. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in third.
The University of Waterloo wound up behind UMR in fifth place. The University of Missouri-Columbia finished in the top 10.
Michigan and Minnesota fought for first place most of the way. On Tuesday, July 26, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, the team from Michigan was assessed a 40-minute speeding penalty – and it looked like Minnesota would win the race. But Michigan filed a 55-page protest, and the penalty was reduced to four minutes.
The UMR team reports that curious crowds grew larger and larger as the solar racers approached Calgary.
“It seemed like the entire drive from Medicine Hat to Calgary was filled with people,” says UMR team president Stephanie Maiden. “It was wonderful.”
Thousands attended a reception for the teams Wednesday afternoon at a stadium on the campus of the University of Calgary, where a re-creation of the Olympic torch from the 1998 Calgary Games was lit in honor of the solar racers.
On their way to Calgary, UMR and the other teams traveled through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota – soaking up solar energy during the day and camping at night. On day four of the race, UMR had passed Michigan and was leading the pack. But, after an encounter with a thunderstorm south of Topeka, Kan., the UMR team was forced to the side of the road for about two hours to recharge the car’s battery.
After crossing the Canadian border, with Michigan and Minnesota challenging for the lead, the teams turned left in Winnipeg and headed across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Now, the UMR team is ready to turn around and head back to Rolla in vans. Solar Miner V will be brought back in a trailer.
“On the way back, all of our hotel rooms have pools and hot tubs,” says Maiden. “We just want to relax.”
The campus community and general public are invited to welcome the UMR team home during a celebration planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, outside of the Havener Center. Lunch will be sponsored by Rolla area businesses and UMR faculty and staff. Solar Miner V and members of the crew will be on hand.
Solar challenge races have traditionally been run every two years. In 2003, UMR won the Great American Solar Challenge, which followed old Route 66.
Michigan, the 2001 winner, reportedly devoted a budget of nearly $2 million dollars to reclaiming the championship in 2005, and it paid off.
“We’ve already had conversations about what went wrong, what the team could do better in the future,” says Maiden. “It’s an ongoing discussion.”
UMR, with a race budget of about $200,000, will now have three years to prepare for another shot at the title. According to U.S. Department of Energy officials, the next race will be in 2008 instead of 2007. A route from Mexico to Canada is being considered.