WMU team finishes fifth in Formula Sun Grand Prix solar car race

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Photo of Sunseeker solar race car.WMU's Sunseeker solar race car

(Photo credit: Sunseeker team)

KALAMAZOO—After spending several hours of the final day in first place, Western Michigan University's solar car, Sunseeker, finished in fifth place in the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2013 after withering Texas heat forced its batteries to overheat.

The WMU team was in first place from roughly noon to around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the final day of the race, when battery temperature was too high to continue without cooling. The surface temperature of the track was reported to be a blistering 139 degrees as thermometers recorded the highest temperatures seen in Texas so far this year.

Oregon State University finished with 193 laps, followed by Illinois State University at 192 and Iowa State at 191. WMU was narrowly edged out by Principia College, which recorded 184 laps to WMU's 183. In all, 12 collegiate teams from across the United States and Canada competed at the race held June 24-29 in Austin, Texas.

Photo of Sunseeker solar race car.Sunseeker on the grand prix course

(Photo credit: Sunseeker team)

Lessons learned

"The team is still proud of what we managed to do, and we all know that had we been able to keep running, we probably would have taken first," says Joshua Allen, Sunseeker project manager. "Lessons have been learned, friends were made, and I think we have definitely set ourselves to be a team to compete with in the future."

Members of the WMU contingent knew high temperatures were expected for the final day of racing, so their plan was to burn as many laps early in the day as possible to build a lead in case the car needed to slow down later. Their good fortunes continued into the afternoon until the mercury started to climb and the car's batteries hit their thermal limit about 2:30 p.m. The team was ahead by several laps at the time, but saw its lead evaporate as the battery pack was cooled to safe temperatures.

The racing track is a 3.4 mile grand prix or road style closed course configuration with several S-curves and a variety of hairpin turns. In all, the WMU team logged 620 miles over three days of racing.

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