The university has been participating in the race for the last 22 years, said Caitlin Sadler, head of public relations—eleven cars in total. Michigan holds several national championship titles, but the international title eludes the university.
This year, the team focused on the international win by taking a look at the model from last year and improving upon it, according to Sadler.
“Two of the major improvements would definitely be the body redesign,” she said. “And we reduced the weight by 200 pounds, so obviously it will take a lot less energy to move the car farther. We took apart our last car and weighed all those pieces and figured out where we were over-engineering.”
The World Solar Challenge is a 1,800-mile race across the Australian Outback. Over 30 teams will compete in the race, and the teams must camp in the Outback during the race to remain self-reliant. Sadler said the challenge provides a unique sense of accomplishment for the Michigan team.
“It pushes the team to go further than they might go if it were just in the U.S.,” she said. “I think it means a lot because it’s a competition against the entire world, and it pushes teams to create something that works in real-world conditions, not just in the lab—it gives our cars real-world viability. That gives our cars the ultimate test.”
Teams can use five kilowatt hours of stored energy, about ten percent of the stored energy needed to complete the journey, according to the World Solar Challenge website. The remaining energy must be harnessed solar or kinetic energy. Despite all of the challenges, Sadler said the Michigan team could win.
“I think we have a very good chance at winning. Quantum is a very amazing car—it’s well built.” She said. “There is going to be some tough competition out there, but I think we have a shot this year.”
Follow the Michigan team throughout the race at www.umsolar.com/wsc