The Illinois State University (ISU) Solar Car Team finished fifth out of 18 teams at the American Solar Challenge Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, Texas, just missing fourth place.
The team was solidly in fifth place throughout the race that concluded on Saturday. But with three hours left in the race, the team saw an opening.
The motor seized on the car of the fourth-place team from Ecole de Technologie Superieure-Ottawa and ISU thought it had a chance to move up, said Bailey McNulty of Bloomington, a University High School graduate who will be a junior in physics this fall at ISU.
“We tried to get every ounce of power” to close the gap, said McNulty, the team’s vice president and one of its drivers. But ISU fell two laps short, finishing with 172 laps to ETS-Quebec’s 174.
The push in those last few hours made the race “a lot more intense than I expected,” said McNulty, who is in his first year with the team.
Nevertheless, “we’re pretty happy with it,” McNulty said of the fifth-place finish.
Jim Dunham, an ISU model maker who is one of the team’s advisers, noted that only one member of the team had been to the race before.
“They got a lot of good experience,” said Dunham. “It made a really good impression on them about the importance of having a car that’s reliable.”
An electrical problem limited the team to 46 laps on Day One as the students tried to locate the problem.
“That pit stop cost us a lot of laps,” McNulty said.
On the second and third days, ISU completed 62 and 64 laps, respectively.
ISU finished well ahead of the sixth-place competitor, Georgia Tech, which had 89 laps. The overall winner was the University of California at Berkeley with 228 laps.
Although it is a competition, McNulty said “all the teams help each other a lot.”
This was the last American Solar Challenge competition for ISU’s Mercury 5s car, which doesn’t meet technical requirements for next year’s race. The team is already working on Mercury 6 and McNulty said they got a lot of ideas from other teams on components they can use.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement with the new car,” he said.
Dunham is hoping to have more students join the team to work on the new car. The 2018 event will have a cross-country race from Nebraska to Oregon, which includes crossing the Rocky Mountains.
The new guidelines will allow only four square meters of solar cells, rather than the current six square meters, Dunham said. That will make battery efficiency and the weight of the vehicle even more important, he explained.
McNulty had some outside experience working with cars and got involved with the solar car team at the suggestion of one of his physics professors, Dan Holland, the team’s faculty sponsor.
“I visited the first week of school and it seemed really exciting,” said McNulty. “They couldn’t get rid of me after that.”
THE PANTAGRAPH (BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS)/TNS