Friday, July 25, 2008


The team took a few pictures at Mount Rushmore this morning! We had to be there at 6 AM to beat the rush of tourists, but it was worth it. I'm not the photographer of the group, but we'll post some of the other photos later after we have time to download them. The last photo is of the team lifting the chassis. The monument was blocked off by all kinds of car-blocking barricades, so we just carried Sol Invictus over!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some pictures!

Here are some photos of the beautiful Sol Invictus! More to come, but on the road our internet is spotty and it takes about 5 minutes per photo (when we happen to hit a reception area).

Currently we're in the middle of nowhere, Montana, fixing our trailer pigtail. Luke noticed the trailer brakes were no longer connected, and after pulling over, we realized the connector had been dragging on the ground and the road had eaten through all of the wires! E-team is working on the problem and almost done. We also got some milkshakes! Tonight we're visiting a former team member, Jared Leonard, in Hermosa, SD. Tomorrow morning we've arranged to have a little photo shoot in front of Mount Rushmore! We'll post those photos ASAP! Then tomorrow we should be home sometime in the evening hours.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sol Invictus finishes 8th!

After a long couple of years and a seemingly endless couple of weeks, the team rolled into Calgary yesterday for an 8th place finish overall. We'd like to thank everyone who helped us build this car, and a special thanks to all the race officials who kept telling us to 'finish the car already!' during qualifiers because they knew that it could be great. For any of you who have seen the car firsthand, we also won the aesthetics award today or 'Prettiest Car Award' as Dan Eberle put it. We like to pride ourselves on making ourselves and our cars look as professional as possible, so this was a great honor.

The finish in Calgary was spectacular, with the entire University of Calgary campus filled with celebratory decorations and interested locals. All of the teams swapped t-shirts yesterday and today to help commemorate the race. Today was the final banquet where individual awards were handed out. Along with the aesthetics award, the team also received the 'Going, Going, Going' award from the observer group, for our hard work through qualifiers and the race to compete and advance in the competition. We're currently on the road, using internet from Verizon! Just coming up on a line of Mountains in Montana and about to stop for the night in Great Falls, MT. Please post comments or questions and we'll try to fill in some of the details! Thanks again for all of your support! (you can also email me at


Continued updates

So finally back in the US, we have internet access on the road again and I can finish telling you about our experiences!

Qualifying...sort of

After Erin's laps and fixing the latest glitch in the car, we only had about 10 minutes left of qualifying time. Race officials hinted that even with Erin being 5 laps short of qualifying, she would be allowed to compete and we should let our 3rd driver, Wade, do a few laps. Wade got in the car and got off to a great start! Wade had never driven the car before that moment, but on the second of the two laps he had time for, he screamed past Michigan in a tight curve. It made our day!

Since qualifiers were done, we went to get the last of our passes on scrutineering and dynamic testing. That night we were informed that because we did not complete all 60 qualifying laps, we would receive a penalty and some type of other probation for the beginning of the race. We were disappointed but understood that it was only fair to the teams who had come with an already-working car!

The next day we we on display in Plano, TX and met a few past members of the team! It was good seeing some familiar faces so far from home. That night we participated in a team dinner and learned that Western Michigan was unable to qualify for the race but wanted to send some members with other teams to give them some race experience. We adopted an electrical team member, Alex, to our team.

The next day the race began, and we started in 15th place due to our low number of completed qualifier laps. Even before the start of the race, we moved up to 13th place because a few teams were late to the starting line. We weren't sure if this was good or bad! We had also received a 2 hour, 35 minute penalty to begin with to penalize us for those uncompleted laps.

Off the start line the car performed as expected...for about 3 blocks. After that we dealt with recurring electrical noise problems which shut off our motor controller and rendered the car inoperable. It was a very frustrating morning for all of us, and most of all our driver, Matt. Eventually we found a fix for the problems and were off. The morning problems had cost us about 2 hours, though. The rest of the day went well and were uneventful.

Brake Failure

One of the most exciting and terrifying days for us was the second day of the race. We made it to the checkpoint in McAlester with no problems but shortly after leaving the checkpoint, Erin started gaining on our lead vehicle after another solar car team had passed and we asked her to decrease speed. With no response we asked our lead vehicle to increase distance to avoid any close calls. Going down a hill, our dodge caravan was actually unable to outpace a coasting Sol Invictus. Erin rear-ended our lead vehicle going about 40 mph. Things quickly got frantic as we asked Erin what the problem was. She informed us that she was getting no response from our brakes and was unable to slow down. With two other teams in close proximity, the situation got more difficult. Erin swerved around a team in order to avoid another collision. The other teams frantically called to us over our CB radios wondering what was going on.

With few options and only more downhills ahead, we told Erin to run into our lead vehicle again. We wanted to slow her down gradually with the bumper and had no other obvious options. She had already tried to slow herself with the parking brake and it had been ineffective as well. Erin refused! She didn't want to damage the car any more. In the distance we saw a gradual uphill and told her to do all she could to stop on it. After about 2 miles without control the car slowly decelerated and came to a stop aside the road. After flags and cones were deployed, we ran out of the vehicles to make sure Erin was alright and to assess the problem. Race officials were already on their way, as our Observer, Chuck, had called them for help. Unable to safely work on the car aside the road, we decided it was smartest to pack up the car and work on it somewhere else. This ended our race day, and so the remaining few hours of the day were lost for racing. We were all pretty shaken up though.

One of our sponsors, Everett Glass of Clear kote, had visited us in McAlester and happened to be driving by when he saw our caravan pulled over. His house was only about 20 minutes away and Everett graciously offered his garage and home for us to work and sleep that night. We were all truly stunned and grateful! That night we discovered that all of our brake pads had been worn through in only a day and a half! We put on the harder brake pads that we had used for qualifiers and did some tweaking and repairs. We were still not quite sure how the pads had been worn down so fast, though.

The next day we made it to Neosho, MO, in time to be entered officially in the race without provisions (excepting only our 2 hr 35 min penalty). Western Michigan's braking system experts came over to our camp that night and ran through our entire system. They helped us refill the reservoirs again, realign the calipers, and threw out a few ideas on how the system had failed. After many sleepless nights it was nice to have a fresh perspective on everything from those guys!

No Sun!

The next few days were kind of a blur for me, and nothing too exciting happened (which is good for us!!). We had moved up to 11th or 10th place by Neosho and were excited to keep advancing. After Neosho the goal was Sioux Falls, and we made it there without a major incident as well. We were forced to trailer from Brandon to Winnipeg due to some horrible driving conditions and a strict time for completing the stage. We were disappointed to say the least.

Winnipeg to Medicine Hat

Out of Winnipeg, we hadn't seen any good weather for charging and had over 600 miles to drive in the next 2 days. We decided to in order to make it, we had to trailer to the first checkpoint. Down the road to Regina we found great sun and got an almost-full battery pack in a few hours. Leaving Regina, we had 420 miles to complete in about 15 hours. Still having no failures, the team drove as quickly as possible, with 5 minute driver changes aside the road being our only break in the day. The next day we pulled into Medicine Hat with huge grins on our faces, being one of only 6 teams to complete the last two legs of the stage under the power of the sun. We were required to be there before 6:30 pm, and we rolled in at 6:17:08. This last leg had allowed us to advance to our eighth place position!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Late Updates!

Hi Everyone!

We've all been super busy for the last few days, but that's no reason to keep you all out of the loop, so we apologize. I'll start from where our last post left off...and try not to forget anything important!

Thursday: We continued our scrutineering efforts and got a yellow or green in every category (meaning we were good to go onto dynamic testing). The car still hadn't moved under its own power yet! We spent the rest of the day and night readying it for that task.

Friday: The car moved for the first time at 7 AM! We were thrilled but had to make it over to dynamic testing immediately. Our drivers hopped into the car with no experience and passed the tests easily! After that we returned to the scrutineering stations to obtain all greens, which we succeeded in doing. Keep in mind, Friday was the last day for qualifiers, which we hadn't even started yet. By this time it was a little after noon and we still had to get 125 miles in on the track to qualify. Our first driver, Matt Martin, qualified first with 16 laps, beating the track time record held up to that point. Electrical problems meant that he had a rough start, with many laps that did not have qualifying times. An interference with the electrical system was causing the car to shut off randomly, but Matt was able to adapt to the problem. He completed one of the 1.7 mile laps in just 2 min 15 sec, all while power cycling (shutting on and off) the car to bring it back online! We were very proud!

Erin jumped in next and did well. She was almost done with her laps when another electrical problem halted the car altogether. It had to be towed into the pit, where the problem was fixed quickly. After this, time was running out! Race officials suggested putting our third driver, Wade into the car so that he could at least get a few laps and have a chance to qualify, so Wade was able to complete an entire 2 laps in the time he was allotted! be continued...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hey everyone! i know you haven't heard from us in a while so here is an update. Texas is HOT (and windy). When we arrived down here we were a little behind but I'm pleased to say that we are pretty much back on track. Today we passed Array, Mechanical, Battery protection, Electrical, and Body and Sizing. Tomorrow we go on to dynamic testing and qualifying. The team as received numerous compliments about our cars looks &design features. During scrutineering, the inspectors complimented us on our well thought out car was.

On Sunday night we began having trouble with our generator. We tried to fix it but no luck. we took it to a small engine repair shop and had it fixed, and we had it running but then it went down again. This really had us scratching our heads and we ended up taking it back to get worked on. turns out our gas can was bad and was putting junk into the tank. We got a new gas can and now its running like a champ.

Yesterday afternoon one of the race officials came hustling up to our trailer and told us that the University of Minnesota had gotten word of a hail storm headed our way. so that sent all the teams into a cleanup frenzy and we packed all our stuff up. the clouds off in the distance didn't look that bad and for a while I thought it would just go around us. Maybe about 45 mins after we had put the car away the wind really picked up. It came from nowhere! Some rain started and then the storm hit--no thunder to speak of or lightning, but big fat horizontal rain drops were shooting everywhere. it rained for about 15 minutes and then stopped. it had blown over one of our tents and the winds leading up to the storm had destroyed the canopy tent we had been eating under. There had been no hail but the rain increased the humidity for the rest of the day( so much for that dry heat)

We have been eating pretty good food. We ate burgers on Sunday, bbq chopped beef on Monday, and last night we had chicken breast. soo good

Today was good we forgot our traffic flags back in Ames do we made some new ones out of some dowels and bright yellow shop rags. we also went into wal mart and got a gift card donated to help pay for a new canopy for eating dinner under and keeping the coolers shaded.

We have done so much in the past three days and the whole team is really excited about the race. The car looks great and the team is working really hard to make sure everything gets done that needs done.

Sorry it took so long to let you know what was up. Talk to you soon, thanks for all your encouraging comments.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Race Preparation

The team is hard at work in the garage as I type! We just set up this blog so that you all can follow our progress on the North American Solar Challenge (NASC). We will try our hardest to update every night so you can see how we are doing!

We are leaving Saturday morning and staying near Tulsa, OK that night at a sponsor's home. Sunday morning we will depart for Cresson, TX and arrive there mid-day, where we will setup and prepare for registration and scrutineering. We're all very excited (but also very tired)! Stay tuned!