After a rocky start that included tire blowouts and problems with the brakes, the UT Solar Vehicles Team finished in sixth place at the 2013 Formula Sun Grand Prix with their $100,000 solar car.
Although the team worked on the car for two years, team members said finishing the car in time was a race in itself. Running on no sleep, team captain Raul Molina said the team worked straight through the days leading to the race to finish the car called the TexSun. They finished the car only a day before inspection and had no time to test it before they were asked to put it on the track.
In a solar car race, the team that completes the most laps wins. Oregon State University finished first in the race with 193 laps over the three-day period; UT completed 121 laps.
Team members took turns driving the car over the three-day race. The car has no air conditioning, so members had to be sure to stay hydrated in the Texas heat, which exceeded 100 degrees Saturday.
More than 1,000 spectators showed up to the final race day on Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, the same racetrack that held the International Formula One Race last year.
UT’s team ran the car for the first time the day of inspection. Race officials checked the entire car to make sure it met race and safety requirements. Some solar car teams failed the inspection portion and never got to see their car on the track. UT’s team got the green light the morning of the race but started late.
“We were behind by half a day worth of race and it is not something really recoverable,” Molina, a mechanical engineering senior, said.
This is not the first time the team has had the odds against them. Earlier in the year, many doubted they would be able to get enough parts to put the car together. The team got a boost in March after Bobby Epstein donated $50,000 to their efforts. Epstein is a UT alumnus and chairman of the Circuit of the Americas.
Neda Abdul-Razzak, the team’s president and a mechanical engineering and psychology major, said going on without any sleep for days before the race and working in the scorching heat also affected the team. Working on such a schedule affected the team’s ability to think creatively and to proactively respond to problems that did surface.
Benton Greene, one of the three drivers and an aerospace engineering graduate student, said he enjoyed driving on an F1 track but he wished that could have gone a little faster. Green said the team needs to make major improvements but will try to keep the same car shape.
Despite the bumps and sleepless nights, Gary Hallock, UT electrical and computer engineering professor, said the team is eager to work on the car again.
“After all this work, the students are already talking about engineering and other modifications to improve the performance of the car and getting it ready for next summer,” Hallock said.