A race day with the Soleon Team

By Chris Tait

For four long weeks, the University of Calgary’s Solar Car Team slugged it out, busily making history in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge by simply qualifying as a rookie team, not to mention finishing ahead of some teams that had more than twice the time to build their cars.

The daily routine was nothing short of intense, usually beginning before 6 a.m. and not ending until at least 11 p.m. Between those times nearly 200 long hours and a number of daily miracles were pulled off to help keep the car on the road and in the race.

5:45 a.m.- Team members had to be up, fed, clean (if possible) and ready to drive from the hotel to the solar car. Each day the team set up the solar array to collect as much energy from the morning sun as possible within the time allotted.

6 a.m.- The team receives the battery from a race observer (who had locked it up the night before to ensure no team charges it by any other means than the sun) and plug it into the array. They charge the batteries until full or until cleared to leave, whichever comes first.

8 a.m.- Cleared to leave anywhere but stage stops.

9 a.m.- Cleared to leave stage stops, in order of time placement to date for the entire race.

12 p.m.- Lunch time. Luckily delicious and nutritious food has been prepared the night before and loaded into each vehicle’s cooler in the morning.

1 p.m.- Driving continues. Less than useful people (i.e. like tag-along student journalists) either write, edit photos, eat snacks or sleep. If anything needs fixing, the car is pulled off to the side of the road, and problems are quickly dealt with. Lightning-fast driver switches and tire changes are truly magnificent to behold.

2 p.m.- The “GOPHER” vehicle (as in, to go ‘fer random stuff) usually has a hotel lined up.

6 p.m.- The team pull Soleon to the side of the road, ending the long day of driving. There’s a period of half an hour–deductible from the following morning’s driving time–in which teams may choose to continue down the race route to search for a suitable place to stop. The solar array must be removed from the car and the batteries recharged.

8:30 p.m.- Stop charging. The battery is handed over to the observer in a locked box.

9 p.m.- The team gets to the hopefully plush, cushy hotel, but must put off relaxation to work on each person’s specialty. The mechanical team works on the chassis and wheel maintenance, the electrical specialists fix any power issues that have arisen, photographers and writers edit and send their material to editors and publishers.

11 p.m.-1 a.m.- People slowly nod off after their work is finished. Requests are made to the front desk for wake-up calls, ensuring it all happens again the next day.

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