WMU News

WMU to host solar race teams from around the globe

May 9, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Auto buffs from around the region will get a look at what the cars of the future may look like when solar race car teams from around the world bring their vehicles to Western Michigan University to qualify for this year's American Solar Challenge cross-country race.

More than 50 solar race teams with a total of as many as 1,200 people will arrive in Kalamazoo beginning Saturday, July 7. The teams represent the nation's top engineering schools as well as corporate and club teams from around the world. They will come to WMU for the week prior to this year's solar race to take part in the Western Michigan University Formula Sun Grand Prix, which has been designated as a final qualifying event for the national event.

After successfully completing inspections and road tests at WMU and at South Haven's Ginger Man Racetrack, the teams will head to Chicago for the start of the July 15-25 American Solar Challenge. The 2001 version of the biennial solar race will begin in front of the Museum of Science and Industry and conclude 10 days later in Los Angeles with the racers following historic Route 66 to complete the race's 2,300 miles-all without consuming a single drop of fuel.

Western Michigan University's solar car, Sunseeker, is among the cars entered in this year's event, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and by Terion, a wireless communication firm with headquarters in Melbourne, Fla. The 2001 race is 1,000 miles longer than Sunrayce 99, the last collegiate solar race, which took entrants from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Fla.

"The American Solar Challenge is about creativity and creativity is the heart of engineering," says Dr. Daniel Litynski, dean of WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "It's taking the latest science to solve people's problems and make life better. This event is a chance to see teams of the best engineering students from around the world competing against each other and on the road from Chicago to Los Angeles. My advice is quite simple--don't miss it!"

While in Kalamazoo, solar race cars will spend three days, Monday through Wednesday of the qualifying week, on the WMU campus undergoing "scrutineering"-an inspection process to make sure cars are roadworthy and meet all ASC requirements for this year's race. At stations in the Miller Auditorium parking ramp and on lots surrounding WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in Kohrman Hall, the cars will be tested for steering and braking performance and for such safety processes as rapid driver ejection.

Upon successful completion of those tests, race teams will take their cars to South Haven for two days of qualifying events Thursday and Friday, July 12 and 13, on the Ginger Man track. Members of the public are welcome to attend all the qualifying activities.

Racers will take off from the Museum of Science and Industry Sunday, July 15. The start of the race caps a two-week outdoor solar exhibit at the museum that will include a giant electronic message board featuring race information and using solar technology similar to that used by cars entered in the ASC.

"The Museum of Science and Industry is delighted to be part of the American Solar Challenge," says Keith Gill, a 1988 WMU alumnus who is curator of transportation and the U-505 Submarine Exhibit. "Our fascinating mix of historic and current technology exhibits make the race a perfect fit with our mission to educate the public about cutting-edge technology."

From the start in Chicago, racers will continue along Route 66 through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into California. The race will conclude in Claremont, Calif.

WMU students have been active in national solar racing since the first Sunrayce was held in 1990. During that and subsequent races in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999, WMU teams have raced using the name Sunseeker for each of their entries. In all, WMU has built four cars. This year's entry is a revamped version of the team's popular and successful Sunseeker 95 vehicle.

WMU is one of only eight schools in the nation and the only Michigan school to have competed in and finished all five solar races to date. This year, three other Michigan schools-the University of Michigan with its veteran solar racers, and newcomers Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University--also will compete.

For more information, visit the Formula Sun Web site, <www.formulasun.org> and click on American Solar Challenge.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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