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University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team Looks to Win 2013 World Solar Challenge

The World Solar Challenge is a competition that pits teams from around the world against each other as they design, build, and race solar-powered cars across Australia. Last week we spoke with Ethan Lardner of the 2011 team to talk about their third place finish.

With the 2013 event coming up in October, we wanted to talk to Eric Hausman, the Race Manager of University of Michigan’s 2013 solar car team, to see what they are doing to place first this year. 

Hey Eric, thanks for taking the time to speak with me, could you tell me a little about the big race coming up in October?

The race takes place on October 6th and spans from Darwin to Adelaide which is completely across the continent and over 3000 km. This year is the first year with the competition’s new regulations. The solar cars must have 4 wheels and the driver must sit further upright with more room in the canopy. This puts all of the teams back to the drawing board to come up with new designs.

Could you tell me a little about the University of Michigan’s solar car, Generation, and how is it different from the previous car Quantum?

This is the University of Michigan’s first 4-wheeled solar car in over a decade.  It is also our first asymmetrical car. I can’t go into too much detail about why the car is asymmetric (we can’t give anything away), but generally speaking, it increases efficiency.

Quantum, the 2011 car, was really a great car, but that year we actually built two cars to hone our design. The problem was that we didn’t leave enough time for testing. This year we are building one car and we have had more time for testing than ever before.

What was the biggest obstacle that had to be overcome?

The biggest obstacle was coming up with the best overall design for four wheels. Other cars were iterations of previous models but for this car we needed a whole new design. We looked at dozens of new design options trying to find the optimal geometry.

What about solar cars do you think would surprise the average person?

People still think solar cars can only go 25 mph tops and that they are a hobbyist thing. The truth is that they are race cars first and foremost. The World Solar Challenge is a race, and being so, it drives the competition and the innovation.

Our tires are rated at 80 mph and that is our limiting factor. If not for the tire limitations, this car could go over 100 mph. Solar cars are incredibly efficient, highly engineered vehicles.

How did you get into solar car racing?

I saw the University of Michigan’s 1990 car while in 2nd grade in the Henry Ford museum. I modeled my pinewood derby car after that and ever since wanted to the join the team.

Could you expand on your role as Race Leader?

Before the race I was heavily involved on the sponsorship side of things. I had relationships there because that is where I was involved before this year. My job is to ensure that the team knows what’s going on. Things change so rapidly with people working 24/7, so it’s necessary that divisions are communicating with each other and have the right resources.

What did you learn from last year’s 3rd place finish, and how are you going to get 1st this year?

We learned a lot from 2011. The team needs to balance between having a great car and having a reliable one. As I mentioned earlier, In 2011 we were working with two cars so we couldn’t test enough. This year we have had really great sponsors that have allowed the car to be built faster, which gave us more testing and design time that should help us win. Go Blue!

Thanks for giving us a peek into the works of University of Michigan’s 2013 World Solar Challenge team and solar car, Eric! We’ll make sure to catch up with Eric and the rest of the team after the competition in October to let you know if they were able to make the jump from 3rd to 1st this year!

(All images from UM Engineering)

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