Breckenridge Texan

Solar car racers stop in Breckenridge on their way to California

Solar car racers stop in Breckenridge on their way to California
July 18
21:20 2023

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

For the first time in five years, the Solar Car Challenge is back on the road, and once again their route brought them through Breckenridge. On Sunday afternoon, 15 sun-powered cars stopped in front of the Stephens County Courthouse for a brief break on their way to Palmdale, California.

The Solar Car Challenge is an annual event that was started in 1989 to teach high school students how to build and safely race roadworthy solar cars. The cars are designed and constructed by teams of high school students from around the country. This year’s teams are from Michigan, California, Oregon, Kentucky, Arkansas and several Texas cities.

Kaavya Sethi, a member of the Prosper Engineering Team, talks with other members of the team before leaving Breckenridge on the next leg of the cross-country race. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

The students start working on their cars about a year in advance and then spend three days at the Texas Motor Speedway in a qualifying event. This year’s challenge started out with 20 teams, but only 15 made it to the starting line on Sunday morning.

Although the racers experienced some cloudy skies early Sunday, by they time most of them reached Breckenridge, it was sunny and 100 degrees. Riley Ereno, a member of the Prosper Engineering Team from Prosper, Texas, said their team was coping with the heat by changing drivers as often as necessary. When they aren’t driving the solar car, the students get to ride in the fully air-conditioned vehicles accompanying the team, he said. Additionally, the solar car has ventilation and a fan blowing toward the driver.

“So it’s not air conditioned, but the air is moving,” said Ereno, who is the CAD Lead for the project. “And it’s just a really nice ventilation system. So it feels much, much nicer than it looks, much cooler.”

The Prosper team’s car, which is named Apollo, is designed to go 65 miles per hour, but the team had been driving it at a consistent speed of 30 to 35 mph, Ereno said.

Although the Solar Car Challenge is a race, the goal is not necessarily to get to Palmdale the fastest but to be the car that actually drives the most miles. The teams are accompanied by a vehicle with a trailer, and the solar cars are put on the trailers from time to time. The miles traveled while the cars are trailered do not count toward their totals.

The Blazin’ Bulldogs from Wilson, Arkansas, drove an electric-solar car in the race. The cars in that category have two seats, rather than just the one that the classic solar cars have. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

There are several situations in which the cars are trailered. For example, in some areas along the race, the coordinators have scheduled mandatory trailering because of dangerous driving situations. Additionally, the cars may only race between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. So, if a car has not made it to the scheduled stopping place by 5 p.m., the car must be trailered at that time and transported to the location. Additionally, teams can choose to trailer their car if they are having trouble making it up a hill, etc.

After leaving Fort Worth, the teams stopped in Mineral Wells for lunch and were on their way to Snyder, the stopping point for Sunday night. There were a little over 182 miles available for the cars to drive on Day One. On Monday, they left Snyder and traveled the 204 miles to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Today, the teams have been driving to El Paso. They’ll take a break tomorrow and resume the race on Thursday, going to Florence, Arizona. They are scheduled to arrive in Palmdale, California, on Sunday, July 23.

You can track their progress online on the Solar Car Challenge website. There is a lot of information on the website, including profiles on the teams, the 32-page rule book with all of the requirements that each car has to meet, and much more.

One of the interns who is helping out with the race this year was a Coppell High School student on one of the race teams in 2018 when they stopped in Breckenridge (click here to see that Breckenridge Texas article). Since then, MacKenzie Becker has graduated from Purdue University and is now working as a systems engineer in the space program of Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company in California. On Sunday, she was helping answer questions about the cars and the race, and reminiscing about her experience with the challenge.

One thing the racers will be facing as they travel West will be the extreme hot temperatures that have been making the news lately. As they pull into western Arizona and California later this week, the temperatures are expected to be 114-118 degrees (Fahrenheit) in some areas along their route. Becker said the race organizers have multiple precautions in place for dealing with the heat.

Members of the Heroes’ Alliance Vehicle Technology Team from Detroit, Michigan, drive “The Blurr” down West Walker Street. The electric-solar car is powered by batteries that are charged in a separate charging station. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“We’ve been doing safety training, and we all joke that the sunshine is great for the cars not so great for people,” she said. “So, of course, we’re doing all of the precautions on hydration, making sure people are drinking all their water. Most of these cars don’t have air conditioning, so most of the teams are instructed to stay in contact with their drivers (to make sure they’re OK). And we have water trucks, medical trucks, all sorts of people driving back and forth, to keep an eye on everybody and make sure we’re all safe.”

Braeden Madler with the Wylie East High School team said their car, known as the East Beast Xtreme, is air conditioned. Additionally, the drivers wear an air vest with fans on it. The East Beast Xtreme is in the Advanced Classic Division.

The solar cars in the challenge are divided into four categories:

  • Classic: a basic solar-powered car
  • Advanced Classic: for schools that have participated in the challenge for three or more years
  • Advanced: following additional rules and regulations that give teams an opportunity to explore new and upcoming technology for their solar cars
  • Electric-Solar Powered: two-seat cars that do not have solar panels on them but are powered by interchangeable battery boxes that are charged by the sun on the team’s Solar Power Charging Station, which accompanies the car on a separate vehicle

The race is organized and directed by Dr. Lehman Marks, president of the Solar Car Challenge Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The challenge and the racing teams have local, regional and national sponsors, including Oncor, Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, Hunt Oil Company, Dell Computers, Green Mountain Energy, The Acclivus Corporation, Austin Energy, EarthX-TV and more.

The Stephens County Courthouse was opened up for the solar car teams to use the facilities and get a brief break from the heat. After about a 15- or 20-minute break, each team was back on the road to Snyder, grateful for the local hospitality.

To see more photos from the solar cars’ stop in Breckenridge, click here for the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery.

Nate Reinert with the Wylie East Solar Car team from Wylie, Texas, drives into downtown Breckenridge Sunday afternoon, July 16. According to one of the team members, the car is air conditioned and the drivers wear an air vest with fans in order to keep cool. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

On Sunday afternoon, several solar cars were lined up in front of the Stephens County Courthouse, including, from left, “Horizon,” driven by the Burning Daylight team from Watertown, Wisconsin; the “The Blurr,” driven by the Heroes’ Alliance Vehicle Technology Team from Detroit, Michigan; and, “The Reditus,” driven by the Blazin’ Bulldogs from Wilson, Arkansas. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Members of the Burning Daylight solar car team from Watertown, Wisconsin, check over “Horizon” before getting back on the road to Snyder on Sunday afternoon. Click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s photo gallery from the Solar Car Challenge’s stop in downtown Breckenridge. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)




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