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Sunseeker ready for North American Solar Challenge

June 29, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A 2,500-mile race across the middle of two nations is in the cards next month for a team of Western Michigan University students and their advisors who have built a racecar designed to tap the every available ray of sunshine for fuel.

A 10-member team of students, faculty and staff from WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences will leave July 7 for Austin, Texas, where the North American Solar Challenge is set to begin July 17. The race will conclude 10 days later in Calgary, Alberta.

The route, the longest of any collegiate solar race to date, follows U.S. Route 75 and the Trans-Canada Highway, with checkpoints in Weatherford, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Topeka, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Brandon, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; and Medicine Hat, Alberta. Sponsors of the event this year are the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Natural Resources Canada.

A total of 28 cars from across North America are expected start the race. Six of the 28 competitors represent Canadian colleges and universities.

WMU's Sunseeker, unveiled June 29 during a brief campus ceremony, has been tested quietly on Kalamazoo city streets and local racetracks for the past several weeks. The 2005 car is a modification of WMU's successful 2003 car that raced to a top-five finish against teams from the top engineering schools in the nation during a June 2003 run from Chicago to Barstow, Calif., along Route 66.

When planning for the 2005 race, says Abraham Poot, one of the team advisors, the team decided to take the successful design of the 2003 car and make it better. Race officials in 2003 selected the WMU car for both the Inspectors Award for mechanical and electrical design and the EDS Gold Award for best overall solar car design.

"We decided not to argue with success, but to make some needed changes and refine the car in small ways that will make us even more competitive," Poot says.

Changes to the car include the addition of solar cells for about 50 additional watts of power; a lighter battery system selected to conform to new race regulations and take the battery weight from 30 kilograms down to 25 kilograms, using lithium polymer cells rather than the lithium ion cells previously used; a new battery management system that monitors, voltage, temperature and current; a redesigned rear suspension; and several refinements to the car's aerodynamic and safety characteristics.

The most dramatic visible change to the car can be seen in the canopy that covers the driver's cabin. The canopy is lower, more aerodynamic and better integrated with the solar array panels. In contrast the 2003 canopy, which was totally transparent, the new design has only one-third of the transparency and is designed to block more than half the sunlight entering the driver's cabin. The canopy design is coupled with an improved rear vision system that features a camera and liquid crystal display.

Sunseeker team members will use their final week in Kalamazoo putting the finishing touches on the car and getting ready for their July 7 departure. Prior to the start in Austin, the WMU car must undergo final testing and inspection during the July 10-15 final qualifying events.

Complete race details, photos from previous races and information about solar technology can be found online at <www.americansolarchallenge.org/event/asc2005/>.

2005 Sunseeker team


Abraham Poot, laboratory coordinator, Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering.

Dr. John Kapenga, associate professor of computer science.

Frederick Sitkins, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering.

WMU student members

James Plocinik, a mechanical engineering major from Livonia, Mich., a member of the 2003 team and this year's co-captain.

Carl (C.J.) Hawkins, an aeronautical engineering major from Niles, Mich., and team co-captain.

Justin Rensch, a mechanical engineering major from Delton, Mich., and the mechanical team leader.

Ian Smith, a computer science major from Mattawan, Mich., who is responsible for compiling and analyzing the telemetry data from the car.

Timothy Gaston, a mechanical engineering major from Livonia, Mich., who is working on body and suspension modifications.

Steve Yurk, an aeronautical engineering major from Portage, Mich., who is one of the primary drivers.

David Ludens, an aeronautical engineering major from Portage, Mich., who will transmit photographs and information to the WMU Web site during the race.

High school student members

Kevin Dugal, a senior at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center.

Lindsay Hatter, a senior at KAMSC and Loy Norrix High School.

Alexander Hessler, a senior at Paw Paw High School.

Danielle M. O'Connell, a senior at Portage Northern High School.

Tom Platte, a senior at Hackett Catholic Central High School.

David Tindle, a senior at Loy Norrix High School.

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

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