ASC 2016 Reflections

I have had a very enjoyable time covering the American Solar Challenge 2016 on this blog. It’s a pity that clouds and rain meant that so many cars had to trailer on the last day. Solar power does require actually having some sun.

The bar chart above (click to zoom) shows the final results from here. Michigan (2) won, Dunwoody/SER (51) came second, Toronto/Blue Sky (77) third, Missouri S&T (42) fourth, and Principia (32) fifth. Only Michigan drove the entire 1976.2 miles on solar power.


Minute 0 of Day 1: Michigan (2) leaves the ASC 2016 start line in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Looking back and reflecting, it does seem that there is really only one international-class solar car race – the World Solar Challenge. This means that the ISF idea of international Grands Prix simply does not work (not to mention running counter to the ASC and WSC emphasis on design and innovation). Of the ASC 2016 field, Michigan (2), Toronto (77), and Principia (32) came 4th, 12th, and 17th, respectively, in the WSC 2015 Challenger Class. Of the other four-wheeled cars at ASC 2016, only the Swiss-built car raced by team 51 would be expected to have placed in the WSC’s top twenty.

The ASC is the biggest and best of the continental-class events, but it suffers from not having any of the top-ten European teams attending. Indeed, even some of the better US teams (like Stanford) skipped the event this year. Scrutineering for the ASC has been very tough, however – by the end of the last official day of scrutineering, only 7 out of 20 teams had passed (10 more passed during the track race that followed). This reflects a very commendable emphasis on safety by the ASC organisers.


End of Day 2: Appalachian State (828) recharging at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, IN.

The ASC is a fantastic opportunity for smaller teams that cannot afford the costs of travel to Australia. However, there have also been some serious cases of last-minutitis among the low-end teams – and this can have some rather sad outcomes for them. One should really finish building the car well before the start of the race, so as to give enough time for testing, for driving practice, and for ironing out any bugs. After all, the race has many challenges, and “Prior Preparation, Planning, and Practice Prevents Poor Performance.”


Day 3: After the terrible rain at the start of the day, ETS Quebec (team 92) copes with hills and traffic.

Live GPS tracking worked about as well (or as poorly) as for the World Solar Challenge. I had naively been expecting it all to work perfectly, but I guess the limitations are inherent in low-cost mobile tracking units. Another problem is that it’s difficult to distinguish between tracking units that have lost communications and tracking units that have been switched off by a team that has stopped.


Start of Day 5: Minnesota (35) leaves the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

The ASC was a slower race than the WSC last year, perhaps because of lower speed limits and a more difficult route. The route was also hillier than that of the World Solar Challenge, spanning approximately 1,400 metres (4,400 feet) from lowest to highest point (Missouri S&T ran into motor problems on one of those hills on Day 1). There was also a lot of bad weather this year, and the night-time map below shows that much of the ASC 2016 route passed through built-up areas, which slowed driving as well – quite a contrast to the corresponding map for Australia!

One thing I have learned from this race is that three-wheeled cars are not really faster than four-wheeled cars after all. One thing I would like to see in the future is some team mergers (Poly Montreal and ETS Quebec, perhaps), with the combined (presumably stronger) teams entering in the WSC as well. Another thing I would like to see is more Cruiser-class cars. The straight speed competition has become a search to see who can best imitate Delft, but the Cruiser class still has many different ways of winning. I am encouraged to hear that some teams, like Iowa State, are thinking of making their next car a Cruiser.


Day 5: Toronto (77) at the Topeka checkpoint.

Now that the race is over, I would also like to take the opportunity to hand out my personal Scientific Gems “Gem Awards,” as I did for WSC 2015 (I have already announced these on Twitter):

    
The “Faster than lightning” gem goes to Michigan (team 2), still the “Fastest solar car in the Western Hemisphere.” They won the FSGP, with 518 laps, and completely dominated the ASC road race from start to finish.

    
The “Cruiser” gem goes to Minnesota (team 35), the only Cruiser to pass scrutineering. They came 4th in the FSGP, with 386 laps, although they sadly had a motor failure during the second stage of the road race, from which they recovered to come 10th in the ASC overall. Their Eos is still the most practical solar vehicle in the Western Hemisphere.

    
The “Solar car family” gems go Principia (team 32) for, in the tradition of the event, helping other teams stay in the game. Principia also ran a very good race, coming 2nd in the FSGP, 2nd in the ASC first stage, and 5th in the ASC overall.

        
The “Media excellence” gem is shared by Principia (team 32), Minnesota (team 35), and Appalachian State (team 828) for their enjoyable and timely Facebook updates (32, 35, and 828) and for excellent blog posts by Minnesota and App State.

    
The “Beautiful background” gem goes to the Midwest US National Parks, through which the ASC race route passed.

    
The “Blogger’s helper” gem goes to the R statistical software suite, for its assistance with web-page downloads, map-drawing, statistical analysis, and HTML generation. The chron, igraph, png, raster, RCurl, and XML packages for R have been particularly useful.

    
And the “Race organisation” gem goes to the ASC team for doing such a great job!

And finally, I look forward to seeing some of the teams from this event compete in Australia, at WSC 2017!


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One thought on “ASC 2016 Reflections

  1. Pingback: A solar car racing year | Scientific Gems

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