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UM Leading Solar Car Race Across America

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University of Minnesota competitors pop the top on their car, Centaurus III, after finishing second in the American Solar Challenge college race Monday. Taking it easy in the background is the first place University of Michigan team in the shadow of the Big House. Matt Roush photo.

University of Minnesota competitors pop the top on their car, Centaurus III, after finishing second in the American Solar Challenge college race Monday. Taking it easy in the background is the first place University of Michigan team in the shadow of the Big House. Matt Roush photo.

ANN ARBOR — So far so good for the University of Michigan’s solar car team in this year’s American Solar Challenge.

UM is one of 18 teams racing through eight states over eight days, from Rochester, N.Y. to St. Paul, Minn. Two other Michigan universities are also competing — Michigan State and Western Michigan.

UM’s Quantum car was first by hours into Monday night’s finish line — a parking lot on State Street in Ann Arbor just north of Michigan Stadium. Rolling in second a couple of hours after UM was the University of Minnesota.

Monday’s racing was obviously in brutal heat, along state highways from Mansfield, Ohio to Ann Arbor, up US-127 and across US-12. And that came a day after racing through Ohio from Erie, Pa. through driving rainstorms — rain that sidelined some competitors with electrical problems, though not UM.

UM race manager Jordan Feight said the UM team was able to “race” at posted speed limits under Monday’s conditions.

The UM car weighs less than 400 pounds. It’s made of carbon fiber composites. Its 1,400-watt solar array charges a five-kilowatt battery pack, and its motor is in the drive wheel. Feight said that despite using less power than a home hair dryer, the car is capable of speeds over 100 mph. (It’s never been tested for top speed, though, Feight said, and its tires are rated for a maximum of 80 mph.)

Feight said he believes some of the technologies present on the ASC cars will eventually make their way into passenger cars — especially onboard solar panels for charging electric and hybrid vehicles.

Tuesday’s racing will begin at 9 a.m. in Ann Arbor. The cars will head north to Lansing then take M-43 down through Grand Ledge, Hastings and Richland before arriving in downtown Kalamazoo starting at about noon.

The teams will head to WMU’s engineering complex for a mandatory stop and race checkpoint. Each team will spend at least an hour on campus, giving the public an opportunity to get a close-up look at all the competing cars.

The checkpoint is at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences on WMU’s Parkview Campus, which is located at the intersection of Drake Road and Parkview Avenue. The checkpoint will open at 11 a.m. and close at 3:15 p.m.  Free public parking is available in the parking ramp behind the east wing of the engineering complex.

Teams will arrive in Kalamazoo by traveling down Gull Road (M-43) from Richland. They’ll race through the downtown area on Kalamazoo Avenue and follow the I-94 Business Loop along Stadium Drive to Drake Road. Racers will then take Drake Road directly into WMU’s Parkview Campus.

Teams will leave the campus heading east on Parkview Avenue to Oakland Drive, head south on Oakland to Shaver Road and take Shaver to US-131, where they’ll head south for the next leg of the race through northern Indiana and Illinois.

The cars have two days to get to Normal, Ill. Wednesday and Thursday. Then they’ll head for Verona, Wis. Thursday and LaCrosse, Wis. Friday. The race finish is scheduled for Saturday at the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul.

The American Solar Challenge is run by the Innovators Educational Foundation, a non-profit organization based at the University of Missouri’s campus in Rolla, Mo., now called the Missouri University of Science and Technology. More at www.americansolarchallenge.org.

More about the UM solar car team at http://solarcar.engin.umich.edu/. More about the MSU solar car team at www.egr.msu.edu/solar/. More about the WMU solar car team at www.wmich.edu/sunseeker.

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