WMU News

Students prepare solar car for June Sunrayce

March 30, 1999

KALAMAZOO--A slimmed-down, more aerodynamic Sunseeker solar race car is in its final stages of construction as Western Michigan University students prepare the vehicle for entry in the June 20-29 Sunrayce.

Sunrayce, a biennial competition featuring entries from colleges and universities across the nation and Canada, is sponsored by General Motors, EDS and the U.S. Department of Energy. This year's race will begin in Washington D.C. and finish 10 days later at Epcot Center in Orlando.

WMU has had an entry named Sunseeker in each of the four previous races, held in 1990, 1993, 1995 and 1997. Of the 175 colleges and universities that have participated in vehicle design, testing or actual racing since the start of Sunrayce, WMU is one of only eight schools in the nation that has competed in all four races and is the only Michigan school to have completed all four.

This year's version of Sunseeker will officially be unveiled in a public ceremony set for May 21. It will be completed much earlier, however, in order to have it ready to undergo testing and take part in a Sunrayce qualifying event set for May 6-9 at General Motors' proving grounds in Milford, Mich.

Ronald Andrade, a senior accountancy major from Fenton, Mich., is project manager for the team that includes students from across the University. He says solar race fans can expect more speed and a number of technological innovations designed to give this year's Sunseeker -- Sunseeker 454 -- an edge.

The new car features an aerodynamic body design of carbon fiber composite and will be as much as 75 pounds lighter than the 1997 car. Besides innovations in the car's design and power systems, the team is looking for an additional edge in the strategy department with the addition of an energy saving cruise control system that was developed to take advantage of global positioning

"We've designed our car for an optimum running speed of 55 miles per hour," says Andrade. "That's the maximum speed allowed by Sunrayce this year. With the strategy innovations and the terrain involved, we're hoping to average more than 45 miles per hour."

The team utilized wind tunnel testing to analyze the aerodynamic shortcomings of the 1997 car, which placed 16th in the last race. Then they designed this year's body to correct those problems. The team also opted to use a lighter weight, more efficient battery system and to use in-hub motors that eliminate the need for transmission and drive train.

Andrade notes that the winning average speed for solar cars in Sunrayce has increased over the years from 24.7 miles per hour in 1990 to 43.3 miles per hour in the 1997 event, which covered a mostly flat, rural course from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs.

"This year's course has a much different terrain and includes a lot of urban settings," Andrade says. Besides the urban start in Washington, D.C., the course will include such cities as Raleigh, N.C.; Atlanta; and Talahassee, Fla.

The student team, comprised of dozens of students from across the campus has about 30 extremely active members, including students majoring in education, marketing, finance and journalism as well as those from the engineering disciplines. From that group, a 16-member travel team will be selected that will include three drivers as well as specialists in such areas as body and chassis design, strategy and communications.

For more information about WMU's Sunseeker team, contact Andrade or other team members at the University's Vehicle Design Laboratory by calling (616) 387-6596. Information also is available on the Sunseeker Web site at <www.wmich.edu/sunseeker>.

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

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