• Part of the National Park Service Centennial celebration
• 1,800 miles of open road, 9 National Parks, 7 States
College is a time for students to learn, grow, and…trek cross country in a solar car? This is the case for some hard working collegiate student teams that are participating in the biennial American Solar Challenge. The ASC is organized by Innovators Education Foundation and challenges college students to design, build, and then drive a solar powered vehicle along a predetermined route.
The 2016 race is extra special as it has been sanctioned as part of the National Park Service Centennial celebration, an eight-day centennial event from July 30 to August 6, 2016. As part of this joining, the ASC route sprawls across the Midwest, starting at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, OH and finishing in Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, SD. Between the start and finish, there are seven other National Park stage/checkpoint locations.
Planning for each American Solar Challenge begins shortly after the conclusion of the previous event. Regulations are reviewed and updated, potential routes are discussed, and stage/checkpoints along the route are examined. “We have a set of minimum requirements for each location…basic facilities (restrooms, electricity, and water access) as well as appropriate amount of parking space.” Lueck said. But not just any parking space, “unshaded, shadow-free parking space for the solar cars to charge!”
The students begin right away as well, “For many of these teams, ASC is capstone of a two-year design/build cycle.” said Lueck. When teams arrive at competition, they do not immediately start on the road. “First, teams must pass a scrutineering process, which is a series of inspections…Once the static inspections are complete, teams move on to dynamic testing, including figure-eight, braking, and a slalom course.” Lueck further explained. The teams that pass scrutineering move on to a three-day track event called Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP). The 2016 location for FSGP was Pittsburgh International Race Complex, and after spending eight hours a day (24 hours total) demonstrating their vehicles roadworthiness on the track and completing enough laps to qualify for ASC, those teams moved on to the open road.
The open road requires a magnitude of volunteers, with most of the core volunteers involved from start to finish. “We have 2 main groups: Staff and Observers” Lueck shared. “Staff include inspectors, timing officials, stage/checkpoint crews, route advance team, and the jury. Observers are assigned to the teams and rotated at every stage/checkpoint along the route.” Observers serve to document what happens while with the team. “Some of the observer team are school teachers who see this as an opportunity to gain experience to share with their classes, while other volunteers are faculty or students looking to start teams and what better experience than going on the event itself to learn first-hand.”
At the end of the trek an award ceremony will be held at Mueller Civic Center in Hot Springs, SD for 400+ participating teams, event staff, and volunteers. Awards are given for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd as well as presentation of a traveling trophy, the Wilson Cup. “We also recognize special achievements; mechanical design, electrical design, teamwork, sportsmanship, and an Observer Award in which an observer generally highlights some fun aspect of the journey for each team.” said Lueck. We also try to open up the floor for individuals or teams to recognize each other’s efforts and assistance. The 2016 1st place winner is yet to be determined, however as Lueck genuinely explained “Despite being a competition, the teams generally want to see everyone qualify into the event and make it to the finish, so these stories of sportsmanship are much appreciated…With all of the steps to design and build a car, pass scrutineering and the qualifier, and then drive 1,800+ miles on solar power, making it to the finish, regardless of placement, is a big accomplishment.”
Midwest Meetings will be following up with Gail Lueck to discuss any ‘Bumps In The Road’ but until then she was eager to let us know that it is never too early to start talking about plans for ASC 2018, so if you are an event planner who would like to get involved and enjoy a ‘Sun”- day drive, contact www.AmericanSolarChallenge.org. Follow the progress via #ASC2016 on Twitter.