U of C team drivin’ on sunshine

By Chris Beauchamp

For the amount of energy required to run a standard blowdryer, the University of Calgary solar car team is hoping to power their vehicle along the 4,000 km route in this years’ North American Solar Challenge. The project is a first for the U of C.

Comprised of nearly 100 students from faculties including Engineering, Fine Arts, Computer Science and Kinesiology, the U of C team represents the largest student project in U of C history, according to Project Manager Rashaad Sader. Despite starting the project later than the over 40 other North American schools entered in the race, the U of C team is passed the design stage, currently building and testing prototype models.

“We’re in the process of making a steel chassis,” said Sader, adding that the finished version of the car will be a carbon fibre aeroshell surrounding a much lighter chromoly chassis. “It’s one thing to have a model in the computer, but you need to see a life size version to really understand how the car will look and work.”

Sader is confident his team can overcome the struggle of finishing the car within the shorter time frame.

“We’re a little bit behind in terms of getting sponsorship funding rolling because we started so late,” said Sader, who is currently working on a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering.

To date, the team has received valuable sponsorship in the form of equipment and testing from Novatel Wireless and Viscan, as well as private monetary donations.

“We will be very competitive in the shape of the car,” he said. “Also, one of the things we can do to make up for being behind is have better driver training.”

Driver conditioning and physiological training for the 10 U of C students volunteering to drive the car is takes place in the Faculty of Kinesiology, although only 4-8 of the drivers will get the chance to race. Besides the car itself, each team will also require a scout and lead vehicle, as well as a motor home for logistics and a chase vehicle to transport the strategy team.

“The race committee caps vehicle speeds at 65 miles per hour,” explained Sader, adding that the U of C will be sending a team down in February to scout the course. “The race really comes down to strategy, and one of the strengths we have is in our geomatics department. We think we can know the course better than any other team.”

The 10 day race begins July 17 in Austin, Texas. Running during daylight hours, teams will work in six hour driving shifts snaking their way through regular highway traffic. The route will wind its way up from Texas, through Oklahoma and North Dakota before crossing the border into Manitoba for the final leg of the journey west across the prairies. Teams will cross the finish line right here in cow town.

Alison Logan, a potential driver and third year Mechanical Engineering student, is excited about the opportunity, but harbors no illusions about the pleasantness of driving the car.

“I’m excited,” said Logan, who is also helping to design the cars’ egress system. “I know it’s going to be hot and it’s going to be hard, but I get to drive a solar car. It’s really cool.”

The final design of the car will be unveiled in April.

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