All photos by Darren Cheng.
In typical Michigan fashion, the hard work and ingenuity of the U-M Solar Car Team lead them to a fifth consecutive victory at the American Solar Challenge.
Despite minor setbacks (minor being swapping out the entire engine shortly after hitting the road), Michigan won in the final stage. Allison Hogikyan, who is pursuing dual degrees from the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering, describes that moment.
“We were actually pretty close with Minnesota that last day because we all started from the same location. When we passed them toward the end of the race, there were tons of people waiting to see who the winner would be, so we were able to run past all those people through the ceremonial finish. It was a proud moment. We met plenty of alumni along the way, so it was really nice to represent the University.”
One key to victory is the commitment of the team, which Allison displays.
“I joined the solar car team to do public relations, so I was in the business division. When I joined the race crew, I was also helping with sponsorships, operations, and logistics. We lost a team member in the summer, so I also took on the role of team meteorologist.”
To qualify for the race, which covers 1750 miles, 8 days, and seven states, the team first had to take part in the “Formula Sun Grand Prix,” a lap competition that totals 24 hours. Whoever completes the most laps gets the pole position. Michigan won this, outpacing their closest competitors by 160 miles.
Allison explains the race from Austin, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, as similar to the Tour de France. “It is a staged race. Some of the stages are two-day stages where you’ll have a checkpoint in the middle and then go as far as you want, camping at night. Some of the stages are one day stages where you just stop when you get there.”
That’s right, camping in tents and sleeping bags after working tirelessly to keep their machine finely-tuned. Luckily, they were often offered the kindness of strangers.
“We had a number of churches very kindly offer to let us sleep inside,” Allison said. “So while we were in the heat of Texas and Oklahoma, we were able to enjoy some air conditioning while we were sleeping.”
You might expect the team to select the lightest person they can find to drive. But the brilliant minds on North Campus know better.
“These cars are built like air foils to be as aerodynamic as possible. If the driver is too light, the car may begin to lift off the ground a little and you will lose traction,” Allison explained.
If a prospective driver falls in the correct weight range, then the training begins. They also have to withstand uncomfortable conditions. According to Allison, temperatures inside the car are about 15 degrees warmer than ambient, which in Texas could mean 120 degrees.