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Sunseeker set for start of North American solar race

July 15, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University students are set for the Sunday, July 17, start of a 2,500-mile race that will take them across six states and three Canadian provinces using nothing except the power of the sun for fuel.

Daily updates on Sunseeker's progress will be published in WMU News beginning Monday, June 18.

The Sunseeker solar car team from WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been in Austin, Texas, since July 9 going through final inspections and qualifying events. The WMU car will take its place on the starting line when the North American Solar Challenge begins there at 9 a.m. (MST), which is 10 a.m. (EDT), Sunday. The race will begin at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin and will conclude Wednesday, July 27, 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.

More than 25 cars from across North America are expected start the race, with the final number of qualified entries still being determined. Six of the competitors represent Canadian colleges and universities. The 2005 race marks the eighth solar race for WMU. The University is one of only three schools in North America and the only one in Michigan to have qualified for and completed all seven previous races held since 1990.

Cars in the event must be powered solely by sunshine, and competitors use solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity to power their cars. Cars race each day within a specified time frame and check in at official sites along the route. The car with the fastest cumulative time will win the competition. With weather and energy management playing critical roles in the event, cars mostly travel at highway speeds and are required to obey local speed limits. In general, the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days also allow the cars to "fill up" their batteries for cloudy or rainy days.

WMU's Sunseeker, unveiled June 29 during a brief campus ceremony, was tested on Kalamazoo city streets and local racetracks during the spring. 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.

The 2005 version is slightly heavier, weighing in at 650 pounds, including the driver's weight. The 25-pound weight increase this year is due to the replacement of aluminum trailing arms with steel arms, a redesigned and stronger canopy, a more aerodynamic nose, a new battery protection system and additional solar cells. The official power output of the solar array is 1,550 watts.

"The results of the dynamic testing in Austin really showed the competitiveness of Sunseeker and its drivers," says Abraham Poot, team advisor. The car completed required maneuvers such as the figure-eight course, braking tests and slalom course in well under the allotted time.

With final inspection of all required systems completed Thursday, the team headed to College Station, Texas, Friday to complete the required 140 laps on the track that would make the team fully qualified for the race and determine the starting position for the vehicle.

2005 Sunseeker team advisors

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

Student team members on the road

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

Alexander Hessler, a senior at Paw Paw High School.

For more information, visit www.americansolarchallenge.org on the Web.

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

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