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Sunseeker heads west for ninth international solar race

July 3, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A team of committed engineering students with an all-new solar vehicle will address the national thirst for alternative energy when the Western Michigan University entry in the 2008 North American Solar Challenge competes in a Dallas to Calgary race later this month.

Members of the 14-student traveling team and the advisors to the WMU Sunseeker project unveiled their new vehicle to the campus community and members of the press in a brief ceremony on campus July 3. Compared with earlier versions of Sunseeker racers, the new car is a little lighter and has the driver in a more upright position. The biggest change, however, is the fact that the new vehicle features front-wheel drive, with four wheels mounted on a three-wheel design. The rear two wheels are mounted close together under the center of the car.

"The new design gives us a really strong base and we feel good about how the changes in design and construction will affect driver safety and performance," says team captain David Ludens of Portage, Mich., an April 2008 WMU graduate.

Other major changes Ludens points to include lightweight magnesium motor housings that cut the vehicle's weight.

WMU's Sunseeker will race under the official entry number 786, which spells "sun" on a touchtone keypad. The Sunseeker race team will leave for Texas July 4 to prepare for the start of the North American Solar Challenge, a 2,400-mile collegiate solar race that will cover the mid sections of two nations with race teams pulling power only from the sun. The race begins July 13 in Plano, Texas, near Dallas and ends July 22 in the Canadian city of Calgary, Alberta. WMU will compete against engineering teams from 23 other colleges and universities. Two demonstration cars also are part of this year's race field. The race is sponsored by Toyota and Crowder College.

The first part of the competition is a week of scrutineering in which each entry is evaluated by judges to ensure it meets race standards for safety and reliability. Teams arriving in Texas will have until July 11 to qualify and determine order of start. July 12 is a display and prep day inn Dallas, and the race will begin on July 13.

On their way to Calgary, teams will go through race checkpoints in McAlester, Okla.; Neosho, Mo.; Topeka, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; and the Canadian cities of Winnipeg and Brandon in Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; and Medicine Hat, Alberta.

This is the ninth time WMU has fielded a car in the biennial race that features the best engineering schools from the United States and Canada. During the most recent two races, the WMU vehicle placed sixth and captured best design awards in post-race ceremonies. WMU is one of only four teams in North America to have raced in and completed all eight previous races.

Teams compete by bypassing traditional fuel tanks and pulling all of their power from the sun. This year, entries from 24 colleges and universities are slated to race, along with two collegiate teams that are entering demonstration-only vehicles. Only two other Michigan schools have entered the race this year. The University of Michigan has a longstanding solar racing effort. Michigan State University will field a rookie team in its first solar race effort.

For more information about the race, go online to www.americansolarchallenge.org. For information about WMU's Sunseeker project, visit www.wmich.edu/sunseeker. During the race, regular updates will be available in WMU News at www.wmich.edu/news.

Related articles
Entergy nuclear helps fund WMU solar race team
New Sunseeker solar race car unveiled Thursday

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

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