UA Solar-Powered Car 'Monsoon' To Race Over Historic Route 66

Lori Stiles
June 25, 2001

***Editors Note: The Arizona Solar Racing Team invites media to preview its solar race car at 10:30 a.m. Thursday , June 28, at the Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Building courtyard (corner of Mountain and Helen Streets). Students and faculty listed as contacts in the story below will be available for interviews. Reserved parking for media in lot directly east of AME. ***

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The University of Arizona College of Engineering and Mines will hold a send-off celebration on Thursday, June 28, for Arizona Solar Racing Team students who built and are about to race their solar car "Monsoon" in the 2001 American Solar Challenge.

The college has invited project supporters to a 5 p.m. Monsoon unveiling ceremony and celebration in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building courtyard on the UA campus (corner of Mountain and Helen Streets).

The students leave July 5 for Chicago for the 2001 American Solar Challenge. The July 15 - 25 race will cover historic Route 66 from Chicago to LA - a 2,300-mile course that will be the longest solar car race ever run. The race features more than 40 custom designed and built solar powered vehicles from around the world competing to complete the racecourse using only energy from the sun.

The UA solar car is Arizona's sole entry.

The team will log daily progress reports and photos on their website, during the event.

Team leader and UA graduate student Colin O'Connor said, "It's been a tough challenge so far to date, but we have met our vehicle design goals."

Monsoon's high-tech frame supports a computer-designed airfoil body, a technologically advanced vehicle design that is expected to win its class in the upcoming race. Precision wire cut aluminum pieces make up the custom suspension. The aerodynamically sleek body mold was fabricated by an industrial 5-axis mill from the computer generated design.

The car's electrical system includes a high efficiency brushless direct current motor and controller system, several hundred advanced solar, cells and several microcontroller based instruments and controls designed by an electronics team led by UA graduate student Steven Beatty. Choosing the solar cells, batteries and motor was a major challenge for the electrical team.

The design of the vehicle represents only part of their efforts. The team had to find sources for all the materials, many of which are designed specifically for the car. They secured donated time for machining from such corporate giants as IBM and Raytheon. They negotiated special deals from vendors who offered their specialized equipment to the team. The students supplied all the labor for design, fabrication and assembly of the vehicle, working evenings and weekends around their academic calendar to make the project happen.

The UA Solar Racing Team was established in 1997. The team successfully built and raced their first car, Daedalus, in SunRayce'99. The goal of the project is to promote alternative energy and engineering excellence through the design and construction of a solar-powered vehicle.


The vehicle, estimated to cost a little over $200,000, is financed exclusively by funds raised by the team.
Most of the money came from corporate sponsors, including Algor, Boeing, International Foundation for Telemetering, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, STW Composites, and from the UA College of Engineering and Mines, and the UA Foundation.

Private citizens also sponsor the car through the 'Adopt-a-Cell' campaign.

"Monsoon" contains 746 4-inch-square advanced solar cells. Alumni, students, family and friends have helped the team offset the cost of the solar cell array by adopting a solar cell for $20, or a string of cells for $100. Adopt-a-Cell sponsors receive e-mail project updates and other perks in thanks for their help.

There are still "orphan" cells for sale," said Paul Landino of Microchip Technology Inc., Chandler, Ariz., an advisor on the project. The adoption of each solar cell is critical to the team successfully crossing the finish line in July, Landino added. Individuals or companies interested in supporting the team can sign up at the solar team web site


The challenge for the team was to design a vehicle powered only by energy from the sun. The basic requirements are that the vehicle be lightweight (around 850 pounds, driver included) aerodynamically smooth, have low rolling resistance and provide a safe cabin for its sole driver.

Because the race route will be plagued with bridges, shaded areas, and possibly heavily overcast weather, the vehicle also carries 8 advanced batteries to store some of the energy needed when the sun isn't shining. Because the car must be as light as possible, choosing the right amount battery capacity was a critical decision. Too much battery provides plenty of power but slows the car because of extra weight. But with too little battery power, a simple passing cloud could bring the vehicle to a halt.

At the start of the race, each vehicle is allowed a full battery charge. After that, it's all up to the solar cells to power the vehicle for 2,300 miles. At the end of each day or in the early morning, the car's solar cell array is directed towards the sun to maximize energy storage for the next leg of the race.

Having the best-designed vehicle does not necessarily guarantee a win, according to solar racing veteran O'Connor, who also raced a solar powered vehicle in SunRayce 99.

"The vehicle must withstand the challenges of driving a long distance on standard roads," he said. These include potholes, hills, rough surfaces and other obstacles.

There are also issues of mechanical and electrical durability of the equipment. Although vehicle repairs are allowed along the way, repairs cost time, especially if tools and parts are not readily at hand.

Then there are the logistical nightmares of coordinating lead, chase and scout vehicles to shelter the solar car from traffic and provide spare parts and radio back road conditions ahead, as well as coordinating team drivers so they get enough sleep, food and rest breaks during the race.

"This is not a drive-till-you-drop race, but a planned speed, time, energy, course and weather race. You just have to hope you have the best design possible to make it all happen," O'Connor said.

The American Solar Challenge Race is organized by New Resources Group and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is providing $400,000 to support the planning, management and conduct of the race. The solar vehicles in the race are designed, built and financed by university and college teams, companies, clubs and individuals from around the world Additional information is online at the race web site,


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