WMU News

WMU team introduces all-new solar car for 2003 race

June 17, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- It's lighter, shorter, narrower and more efficient.

Western Michigan University solar racing team members hope these changes mean success when they take Sunseeker 03 on the road July 13-23 to compete against 33 other top engineering schools from around the United States and Canada in the world's longest solar race.

The team unveiled the new car June 17 and will travel to Northwestern University in early July to complete the final qualifying events for the race, which begins July 13 in front of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and concludes 2,255 miles later in Claremont, Calif. The rigorous race route will take competitors across seven states on historic Route 66 over terrain that includes the challenging temperatures of the desert and the rugged terrain of the mountains.

The WMU car, which was built to mimic the aerodynamic qualities of the car built for the 1999 race, will compete in the "open" class during the race. Under development for two years, the car reflects the main goals of the team--to dramatically reduce the weight of the vehicle over previous WMU entries and enhance the efficiency. Team advisor Abraham Poot says they managed to do both.

The car is five meters (197 inches) long, 1.8 meters (71 inches) wide and weighs in at 655 pounds, with a driver.

Rather than the aluminum frame used in the past, the new car features a composite monocoque body that fully integrates the frame and body and has no welded or bolted joints. The team made a tremendous weight savings as well, Poot notes, by moving to a Lithium-Ion battery that weighs in at 75 pounds instead of the 350-pound, lead-acid battery that was a component of the previous cars.

The flat solar array of previous years will be replaced with a solar array that is curved, front to back and side to side. The new array has an efficiency rating of 27 percent, a major improvement over the 14 percent rating on the 2001 car's solar array. In strong sunlight, the solar cells are expected to produce nearly 2,000 watts of electricity.

A number of Michigan firms contributed materials, company time or expertise to this year's effort. Contributors included Plascorp of Zeeland, Total Plastics of Kalamazoo, Car Star's Lover's Lane location in Portage, Billy's Bike Shop in Galesburg, Stryker Instruments of Kalamazoo; STC Technologies of Portage; Van's Patterns of Grand Rapids, and GS Engineering of Houghton.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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