In this post, I want to distinguish solar car teams from what I’m calling “meta-teams.” The core team is made up of the students who build and race the car, including the sponsorship, media, and logistics sub-teams. The meta-team is everybody else.
The most important part of the meta-team may be the team alumni. These former members of the team have valuable experience, and often retain a strong interest in the ongoing team. Indeed, in some cases, “you can’t chase them off with a stick” (to quote one of the Dutch teams). Tapping into alumni expertise is especially important in the Dutch model, where each race cycle starts with a brand-new team of novices.
Many solar car teams would probably benefit from improved alumni relations – things like a database of alumni contact details, or regular social events with alumni.
The Dutch model of solar car teams also includes a formal recruitment process for the new team. The recruitment panel includes alumni, but it may also contain professional HR staff brought in for the occasion.
Solar car teams all rely on sponsorship, but some sponsors are more hands-on than others. In-kind sponsors offering a product or service may also provide training in using that product or service, and this can be extremely valuable.
Sponsors may also provide business help. In 2017, the team from Delft had their battery pack stranded in Singapore; the airline refused to carry it further. This could have been a catastrophe, but they reached out to their major sponsor, who was able to help them negotiate a solution involving road transport to another city, and a flight with another airline.
An artist’s view of Delft’s 2017 emergency battery flight (photo: Vattenfall Solar Team)
Faculty Advisors and University Support Staff
Faculty advisors are university staff who provide technical engineering advice. Some teams rely on them more than others, but the WSC’s requirement for a “certifying engineer” means that every team needs at least one.
Complementing the faculty advisors are university support staff who provide help with sponsorship, media, and logistics. The App State team lists university support staff and faculty advisors together on their website.
Coaches accompany teams into the field, and assist with issues of team dynamics and morale. Dutch teams have especially benefited from having coaches.
The late Wubbo Ockels coached the team from Delft for several years (photo: Jorrit Lousberg); Erik is the coach for Top Dutch Solar Racing (photo: TDSR)
Photographers and Other Technical Specialists
Several teams will bring in a professional photographer for the race. These have included Jorrit Lousberg (Vattenfall/Delft), Hans-Peter van Velthoven (Vattenfall/Delft), Bart van Overbeeke (Eindhoven), and Jerome Wassenaar (Twente).
Other technical specialists are also sometimes brought in. In 2013, Solar Team Twente took along a weatherman from the Joint Meteorological Group of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. In 2015, the Belgian team took along a similar expert from the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium (who also blogged his experiences).
Who is on your meta-team?