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WMU prepares solar racecar for Indy track race

by Cheryl Roland

April 29, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of WMU's Sunseeker solar racecar.
Sunseeker, WMU's solar racecar
KALAMAZOO--With finals week behind them, a group of Western Michigan University engineering students will spend their weekend in the lab preparing the solar racecar Sunseeker for a May 5-7 track race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sunseeker is one of 11 collegiate solar cars from across the United States that will compete in the American Solar Challenge's Formula Sun Grand Prix 2011. As part of the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, the solar race and a Saturday, May 7, Emerging Tech Day will highlight the Indy's original purpose of serving as a testing ground for new technology.

Sunseeker and its team of 15 students and two advisors will leave the WMU campus Monday, May 2, to travel to Indianapolis for the week. The race's scrutineering--inspection--process is slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. The cars that make the grade will take to the road track inside the speedway's famed 2.5-mile oval on Thursday for three days of racing.

Abraham Poot, longtime WMU team advisor, says the WMU car is a reworked version of the 2010 racecar. Since 2010, it has undergone extensive reworking. Significant changes include replacement of the solar array shell with high-efficiency, terrestrial-grade solar cells. The new cells are a requirement of the 2012 cross country race, lowering the expense of solar racing and allowing more teams to field an entry.

Additional Sunseeker changes include weight reduction, a complete new wiring system and improved aerodynamics.

Michigan technology will be well represented at the event, with three of the 11 teams competing coming from Michigan schools. The University of Michigan will send its solar team, and Michigan State University, a newcomer to solar racing, will send a team as well. WMU has been a competitor in American Solar Challenge events since the organization's inception 20 years ago. ASC runs a biennial event that is a competition to design, build and drive solar-powered cars in a cross-country time/distance rally that covers 1,200 to 1,500 miles and multiple cities.

Other teams competing at Indianapolis include entries from the universities of Kentucky, Minnesota and New Mexico; as well as Illinois State, Iowa State and Northwestern universities; Missouri University of Science and Technology; and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

WMU's Sunseeker was tapped last fall to help the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announce its 100th Anniversary focus on innovation as a critical part of its celebration plans. The Emerging Tech Day is designed to highlight the role of innovation in automotive history. Displays at the tech event will also focus on green and hybrid technology and other types of alternative fuel. A second team of WMU students will travel to Indianapolis for the Emerging Tech Day to showcase their biofuel project.

Poot and a second Sunseeker team advisor, Dr. Bradley Bazuin, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, will accompany WMU team members to Indianapolis. 

2011 Sunseeker Team Members