Sun-powered car shines in American Solar Challenge

MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team (SEVT) completed their first race in three years, the 2018 American Solar Challenge (ASC), last month. The team was awarded 5th place overall in the single-occupant vehicle class.

The MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team poses with their solar vehicle.
Photo courtesy of the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team

The event was a series of competitions during which the team proved their exceptional talent and problem-solving abilities. In order to qualify for the American Solar Challenge, teams have to successfully complete various tests and races that fall under one of two categories: Scrutineering and the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP).

Scrutineering is a four-day process during which race officials test each car to confirm they are in line with challenge regulations. Included are electrical, dynamic, and mechanical tests. The team performed exceptionally well in electrical scrutineering. Mechanical scrutineering, however, brought bsome bumps in the road, mainly issues arising from the vehicle’s suspension system. The group did not let this setback bring them down, however.

“The team was able to locate and debug each issue efficiently, collaboratively, and successfully,” noted MIT SEVT captain and junior Caroline Jordan.

The group successfully passed all mechanical and dynamic tests on the fourth and final day of Scrutineering. Jordan recalled that — although it was a stressful time for the team — “we gained a lot of knowledge and grew as engineers and people.”

Qualifying continued with the FSGP, a three-day track race held at the Motorsport Park Hastings in Hastings, Nebraska. Teams who successfully completed the race would be granted entrance to the American Solar Challenge.

At the start of FSGP, an issue surfaced for the MIT SEVT: The tires on their vehicle were burning through. Instead of feeling discouraged, the team came together and inspected the car to find a solution. The following day, they were back in the game. The team drove 107 laps and received fourth place for single-occupant vehicles.

“At this point, the car was doing amazingly and we qualified for ASC that day,” Jordan said.

The ASC itself lasted nine days. This year's challenge was a 1762.7 mile race that followed the Oregon Trail from Omaha, Nebraska to Bend, Oregon.

“Because of all of the fixes we had already identified, the car was very reliable going into the road race,” Jordan explains. The group performed well in spite of some small issues due to weather and race operations. MIT SEVT’s vehicle completed the race within their time limit using only solar power. The team received fifth place in the single-occupant vehicle class.

Team member and sophomore Cece Chu notes that in spite of some technical difficulties, her team members kept her motivated throughout the competition.

“The amount of planning, time, and effort that was put into the car during and leading up to the race was extraordinary, and the team had to display a lot of determination and sheer grit to get us through the qualifications,” she said. “My teammates are honestly the most hardworking and dedicated people I know, and seeing these qualities brought out firsthand during the race was incredibly motivating for me.”

Jordan noted that the upcoming school year is set to be a big one for the MIT SEVT.

“We will be entering a design year, during which we can pull from the vast amount of knowledge we gained during this race to use in the design process of our next car,” she explained. “It will be a very exciting time for the team.”