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Sunseeker moves to display status in solar race

June 21, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Sunseeker solar car was one of just 14 vehicles to begin the collegiate American Solar Challenge June 20, but after being plagued with electrical problems, the car will leave the competitive roster and serve as a display vehicle for the remainder of the race.

Taking off for the Sunday start of a nearly 1,200 mile solar competition against cars from other top engineering schools in the nation racing from near Tulsa, Okla., to Chicago, the WMU car was competing with a conditional qualification to begin the race. The WMU team's goal was to complete the race's first leg in order to secure full qualification status from race officials.

By day's end Sunday, Sunseeker was one of four ASC competitor vehicles that had not made it to the official checkpoint in Neosho, Mo., resulting in a decision to withdraw the vehicle from the official roster. A field of 13 cars will continue the race, which concludes Saturday, June 26, in Naperville, Ill.

According to Sunseeker team advisor, Abraham Poot, the WMU team will continue along the race route and display its car in communities along the course that serve as race checkpoints or overnight stops. The car will be on display as well at the finish line.

After a race start in Broken Arrow, Okla., near Tulsa, competitors were scheduled to complete 1,192.6 miles traveling through four states, with stops scheduled for:

  • Neosho, Mo. checkpoint
  • Topeka, Kan. overnight stage stop Monday, June 21
  • Jefferson, Mo. checkpoint
  • Rolla, Mo. overnight stage stop Wednesday, June 23
  • Alton, Ill., checkpoint
  • Normal, Ill., overnight stage stop, Thursday, June 24
  • Naperville, Ill., finish at Naperville North High School, 899 Mill Street, Saturday, June 26

This year's ASC marks the 20th year of collegiate solar racing in the United States, and WMU has been one of a small group of colleges and universities that have been in the mix for all 20 years of the biennial cross-country event. Previous races have covered as many as 2,500 miles, covering such routes as Chicago to Clarmont, Calif., and Austin, Texas, to Calgary.

The 2010 version of Sunseeker ran into several problems during the exhaustive seven days of pre-race inspections and track testing. At one point, the team offered its formal withdrawal when two pieces of crucial equipment failed. Other teams in the race, including those from the universities of Michigan and Calgary, stepped up to lend spare parts and offer assistance, keeping the WMU team part of the competitive field.

"The team thanks all of the ASC teams that offered their help to get Sunseeker into the race," says Poot. "And we're grateful to the officials and inspectors of ASC who went out of their way to help us qualify for the event."

Sunseeker hit the track on the final day of qualifying laps to a round of sustained applause from other ASC competitors. The team earned the conditional qualification for the car by completing fewer than the required 170 miles of track testing. The conditional qualification required the team to complete the first leg of the ASC in order to remain in the race, but continued electrical problems took the car out of the field after just a few hours of racing.

"This is certainly not the outcome we were looking for this year," says Dr. Paul V. Engelmann, chair of WMU's Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering and another team advisor. "But we're involved in events like this to enhance our students' practical experience. Our team members will bring home some invaluable lessons about engineering, project management and the nature of collegial work--even across competitive boundaries."

Student members of the WMU group are making themselves available, as needed, to assist other teams in the competition.

2010 Sunseeker racing team

  • Joshua Allen, a sophomore aeronautical engineering major from Reese, Mich.
  • Megan Derwich, a junior mechanical engineering major from Livonia, Mich.
  • Alex Hoeksema, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Portage, Mich.
  • Byron Izenbaard, a junior electrical engineering major from Vicksburg, Mich.
  • Nicholas Killoran, a senior mechanical engineering major from Macomb, Mich.
  • Madeline McAuley, a graduate student in manufacturing engineering from Farmington, Mich.
  • Andrew (AJ) Oman, a senior mechanical engineering major from Plainwell, Mich.
  • Mitchel Panek, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Courtney Rawlings, a May graduate of WMU who earned a master's degree in manufacturing engineering
  • Jesse Wick, a graduate student studying computer science from Battle Creek, Mich.
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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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