Solar Car team in 9th place despite clouds

UK’s Solar Car team made the cut last Thursday and began their race to Calgary on Sunday. After two days of qualification trials, the Gato Del Sol III was assigned the fifth position in the race.

The Gato Del Sol III is the product of UK engineering students and runs solely on solar power.

After passing scrutineering last week, the UK Solar Car team had to complete 60 laps on 1.7 mile road course that had been set up at the Texas Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas last Thursday. By Sunday morning the team had qualified to start in fifth place and left Plano, Texas.

“When we took off, I told the team their theme was ‘Living on the Edge,’ ” said Scott Stephens, a mechanical engineering professor.

The team encountered early problems but were able to work through them before beginning the race, Stephens said.

“Calculations showed that it would last half the race,” Stephens said. The team worked until 3:30 a.m. to fix the problem, identifying circuits in the battery box that were needed, and began the race at 9:00 a.m.

On the first day, the Gato Del Sol III made it to the checkpoint in McAlister, Okla., 154 miles from the starting line. After staying at the checkpoint for 30 minutes, the team continued on to Neosho, Mo., and was forced to stop 50 miles short of the checkpoint because the North American Solar Car Challenge forces all contestants to cease driving at 6:00 p.m.

Currently the team is in ninth place and headed for Sioux Falls, S.D. and will be finishing the entire race on July 22 in Calgary.

“So far there has been no issue or problems,” said Anthony Robertson, a mechanical engineering student and driver for the UK Solar Car team.

“I can’t really complain,” said Matt Hatfield, a mechanical engineering senior and project leader of the team.

“The car is still working and the race officials are surprised we haven’t had any major trouble.”

For the team, their main concern has been cloud coverage and storms.

“If we can get a good break in storm weather, we’ll be pulling up in front of the pack,” Robertson said. Cloud coverage has been an issue for the team since the first day.

Robertson admitted that the team is worried about the next two legs of the race. Due to the clouds, the Gato Del Sol III has relied on a battery pack for some of the race to power the car. Today the team will continue to use the battery pack, which will have them driving 25 mph for an estimated 150 miles.

Stephens, who has advised the UK Solar Car team since 1999, said that despite their setbacks, the team is thrilled for how far they’ve made it.

“They’re all worked to death from lack of sleep,” he said. On average the team is resting between four and five hours.

“We’re running where I think we should be running.” Stephens added and said he believes the team is doing very well.

“The cars that are in the lead cost about ten times more than ours cost to build,” he said. For UK, it’s tough to compete with the technology that the leader from the University of Michigan has.

“Personally, I didn’t have any expectations coming in,” Hatfield said. “All I wanted to was finish.” Hatfield noted that the team is on track, despite the weather.

While the cars leading the race were able to get ahead of the storms the UK Solar Car team will face in Sioux Falls, Robertson acknowledged that everyone has a tough few days ahead of them.

“Everyone is in the same boat once we get to Sioux Falls.”

To continue watching how the UK Solar Car team progresses in the North American Solar Car Race, visit the team’s Web site (