UA Solar Racing Team Starts 2,300-Mile Race Over Route 66

July 16, 2001

The University of Arizona Solar Racing Team has started the American Solar Challenge, a 2,300-mile solar car race from Chicago to L.A. The racing ends July 25.

Professor Dunbar Birnie, who is faculty advisor for the team, has been sending updates on the latest developments, which included a crash during the qualifying runs. Below are his reports.

To see photos of the car during qualifying and at the crash site go to:

For a complete rundown on the American Solar Challenge, see


Dear Arizona Solar Racing Team Supporters and Friends:

We are making excellent progress with our new racing car. As you may know there are three steps to this whole exercise:

-- First, pass "scrutineering" (making sure that cars conform to the many rules and follow the proper safety guidelines).

-- Second, qualify (by logging more than 125 miles faster than 25 MPH on a closed track).

-- Third, race on open roads.

Well, yesterday we got the full "Green" on all of the scrutineering categories. And, today we did our track miles -- and as I write this we continue to log track miles to improve our starting position.

So we are ready to go!!! Yeah!!!

The big race, American Solar Challenge, starts Sunday morning and will go more than 2,300 miles on old route 66.

During the race you SHOULD be able to track our progress in real time on the formula sun website. Each team is fitted with a GPS sensor that keeps constant track of each car's progress. We have been told that you can use the following web site to keep constant tabs on our progress. This site might not be active until the race starts Sunday, but here is the URL:

Unfortunately, our internet access has been sparse, so the solar car home page has not been updated recently. Hopefully we'll be able to make an update soon, but we have much still to do to make sure our car performs to its peak during the big race.

Dunbar Birnie
Professor, Materials Science and Engineering


Hi Everyone!

Well there is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that near the end of the day yesterday (after I wrote my first solar car update) we had the rear tire blow out. This caused the car to spin out and go off the track. Before the car came to a stop, it tilted up on its side and broke the tail a bit, cracking some of the array. Rick, the driver, was fine.

The good news is that we had already logged enough miles to qualify for the cross-country race starting Sunday (almost 180 miles at average speeds around 33mph!). So although today (Friday) was supposed to provide teams with more time to run laps on the race course, we were able to spend the day working to assess and repair all the damage that had happened.

By the end of the day we had replaced two wheel rims that had been bent and checked out all of the suspension and structural aspects of the car. And, we logged 4 more laps before packing up our stuff to move to the next step (Chicago).

Then, in the evening Western Michigan U. catered an awards banquet.

It's easy to say woulda-coulda about these things. But the top three teams in the "stock" class had logged relatively few more miles than we had - so if we had not blown that tire then we feel like we would have been possibly first or second ranked among the stock class entries.

Still, the way that our team rallied to test and repair our car during this day has earned us a special mention award: We were given the "Teamwork" award -- framed for display! We will mount that with pride when we return.

Tomorrow we leave Michigan early AM and arrive in Chicago where we will continue to fix the solar array (replacing the broken cells) during the day.

Sunday will bring the start of the race from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

So, in spite of some terrible luck, we've rallied and are very optimistic about the race. We will keep you posted.

Dunbar Birnie


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