Solar-powered car race under way UM's 'Pride II' among contenders

June 21, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

An odd, wedge-shaped vehicle built by College Park students began a 1,100-mile -- across the Midwest yesterday, fueled only by the power of sunshine.

The University of Maryland's sleek, lightweight "Pride of Maryland II" joined a field of 33 other solar cars, which were to switch on electric motors at 9 a.m. for the first leg of a seven-day race from Arlington, Texas, to Minneapolis.

The U.S. Department of Energy is sponsoring the contest, called "Sunrayce 93," which pits teams from 34 North American colleges and universities against each other in a test of engineering skill, solar car technology and road-racing skill.

At their June 8 rollout in College Park, the students who designed, built and then rebuilt the Pride II, admitted that, despite weeks of feverish work, they hadn't completed construction of their car.

But by last week, students had attached missing headlamps, wheel covers and latches. The light-powered car completed a 30-mile qualifying test Wednesday at the Arlington Convention Center and passed a safety check Friday.

"We have smoothed out those rough edges," said Christopher Lanser, 22, of Beaver Dam, Wis., a spokesman for the Maryland team. "We have a car that a lot of people are drop-jawed about."

Speeds may be slow on the 164-mile first leg of the race from Arlington to Ada, Okla. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service predicted scattered showers for the Arlington area yesterday.

The cars work best under clear skies. Their solar cells take light from the sun and convert it directly into electricity.

Sunrayce officials staged 50-mile time trials for race entrants in April in Phoenix and Indianapolis.

A team from California State University at Los Angeles posted the fastest time, averaging 50.04 mph. Drexel University's car was second, with an average of 49.57 mph. Virginia Tech's vehicle was third with an average speed of 49.50 mph.

Pride II was not permitted to run in the time trials in Indianapolis because of a steering problem, which has since been fixed.

College Park students say they think their car is among the fastest in the field, capable of cruising at 60 mph. Pride II probably has a top speed of 90 mph, Mr. Lanser said, although the drivers will never push it that hard.

The 23-member Maryland race team includes a pit crew and a strategy team in separate vans. The pit crew, ready to make repairs, is shadowing the Pride II along the course, which follows secondary roads. The strategy team is driving ahead, plugging road conditions and weather data into three computers.

Strategists are using radios to advise Pride II's drivers how fast they can run the car without depleting its array of batteries.

All the solar cars carry batteries -- charged by their solar cells -- to supply jolts of extra juice when power demand is high.

Sunrayce is run in seven stages, with the victory going to the car with the fastest overall time. Each stage begins in the early morning, with the fastest cars arriving at that day's finish line in the early afternoon.

In July 1990, the first "Pride of Maryland" solar car finished third out of a field of 31 in the first Sunrayce, a 1,640-mile contest.

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