American Solar Challenge: 8 months away

The American Solar Challenge will be held next July, and I have put together an annotated teams list for that event. Following qualification at Motorsport Park Hastings, Nebraska, the race will run through the mountains from Omaha, Nebraska to Bend, Oregon. The map above shows the approximate route on an elevation map of the northwest US. It will be interesting to see how the solar cars cope with the uphill climb


Congratulations, Toronto!

Toronto’s solar car Horizon comes 12th in the 2015 World Solar Challenge (my photo)

The Blue Sky Solar Racing team from the University of Toronto ( ) had their 20th anniversary on November 18th last year. The video below celebrates their two decades of solar car racing. Congratulations, guys!

American Solar Challenge future rules

Future regulations for the American Solar Challenge / FSGP 2018 have been posted:

Overall, there is a continued convergence to the World Solar Challenge rules, and an uncertainty as to what should be done with the Cruiser Class.

As with the WSC, allowed cell areas are 4 m2 for Si, 3.56 m2 for thin film GaAs, and 2.64 m2 for multi-junction (5, 4.44, and 3.3 m2 for Cruisers). Rules for roll cages seem, at first glance, to still be stricter than the WSC, while rules for brakes seem to be less strict (four-wheel braking is not required). However, composite roll cages, such as Michigan had at ASC 2016, seem to be OK. Much of the Cruiser Class (Multi-Occupant Vehicle) section of the rules is still to be written.

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!

ASC 2016: Day 8

Day 8, the final day of the American Solar Challenge, is a short (158 mile, 254 km) run from Scotts Bluff National Monument to the finish line at Wind Cave National Park.

News coverage from yesterday includes:

The really exciting contest today will be for 2nd place. By my calculation, Toronto/Blue Sky (77) is ahead of Dunwoody/SER (51), but only by 8 minutes. Principia (32) is 36 minutes behind Dunwoody/SER, so they could still take 2nd place as well. The weather forecast, unfortunately, is for mostly cloudy skies, and possible morning rain. For readers who want to see for themselves, here are weathercams in Scottsbluff, NE and in Hot Springs, SD.

Update: The cloudy weather means that most cars have trailered. Michigan has obviously won the race, but everything else will presumably be decided on trailering penalties. Official results will be posted here.

ASC 2016: Day 7

Day 7 of the American Solar Challenge continues the run to Scotts Bluff National Monument, which marks the end of Stage 3:

Michigan is well in the lead, and reported overnight positions for most other teams are on the map below. Based on NASA’s “Earth at Night” image, this map also highlights the sparsely populated nature of the last part of the route:

The positions on the map range from about 300 to 640 km (200 to 400 mi) from Scotts Bluff, which means that Michigan will arrive this morning, whoever is in second place will arrive some time after 1:30 PM today (Central Time), and some of the tail-end teams will be struggling to make it by the end of the day without trailering. I wish all teams good running and bright sunshine!

The early morning in southern Nebraska is partly cloudy today, as seen in the picture above (click for the live webcam it was taken from), although the sky in Broken Bow, NE seems more promising. Recent local news coverage includes:

  • The Beatrice Daily Sun (highlighting the Michigan team)
  • The West Plains Daily Quill (highlighting the Poly Montreal team)
  • The Scottsbluff Star Herald (encouraging people to follow the GPS tracking that won’t work in Nebraska)

Update 1: Michigan (2) were first to arrive at Scotts Bluff, and Toronto (77, below) were second, with Dunwoody/SER (51) third, Principia (32) fourth, and Missouri S&T (42) fifth.

Here is the timing board as at stage stop closure, corrected to be in Central Time:

Update 2: Here is another view of the beautiful stage stop:

Someone at the US National Park Service created the fantastic race poster below (the NPS partnered with the race as a way of celebrating their formation on 25 August 1916).

Update 3: Here is a race chart for the top 5 cars, based on the unofficial timings to Scotts Bluff, and incorporating all Stage 1 and 2 penalties, plus recurring daily penalties for Stage 3. The chart shows that cloud really slowed everybody down today. Toronto (77) and Dunwoody/SER (51) are absolutely neck-and-neck for overall second place, with Principia (32) not far behind. The last stage tomorrow will be a nail-biter after all!

The cloud today meant that other teams had to trailer, including Iowa State, Minnesota, ETS Quebec, and Appalachian State. And here is one final view of end-of-day charging: