For the first time in the history of the MSU College of Engineering, the solar car team competed in a cross-country race at the American Solar Challenge this past week.
The team came in 12th out of 16 at the track race portion of the competition held at Monticello Motor Club from July 10-12, and did not finish the road race that began in Rochester, N.Y., on July 14 and concluded in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday.
Last year was the team’s first time competing against other teams.
Suspension and steering team member Miles Turrell, said the road race was a disappointment, but just competing was a big step for the future of the program.
“We got three miles down the road and our engine gave out,” Turrell said. “It’s a huge challenge just to get your car ready.”
Turrell said the teams from other schools were very supportive and that on the final day of the track race portion, they gave the MSU team a standing ovation.
“It’s almost like (teams are) competing against the clock, not each other,” he said. “Oregon State offered to send us all their schematics. The guys at Minnesota practically rebuilt our engine.”
Although the solar team is well funded by the College of Engineering, Turrell said it’s still hard to compete with the top programs.
“Most teams have their cars built completely by their sponsors,” Turrell said.
Business manager and race crew leader Hasan Alali said it was his job to design a packet to give prospective sponsors and deal with the logistics of team gear.
“A budget for a team like this is $200,000 to $250,000,” Alali said. “We had around $15,000.”
Alali said the team used the car they had from the previous year with some major modifications.
“We didn’t build a whole new car because our budget didn’t allow it,” he said. “We redesigned the chassis, body and battery, and put new electronics in the car.”
He added that most of the financial support comes from the College of Engineering and that the team had eight other sponsors — including Bridgestone, Owens Corning and Texas Instruments — that donated tires, foam and electronics, respectively.
Project manager James Miller, said the team was in an interesting place last year where there were only two members that had previously been on the team and had to act as mentors to the more than 15 new members.
He added the team primarily recruits within the College of Engineering with posters and notices on computers in the Engineering building, but that there is a need for people other than engineers on the team.
“Where we lacked was in places such as business and graphic design,” Miller said.
Although the team didn’t do as well as they hoped, Alali said he is optimistic about the future of the team and what lies ahead.
“I don’t really know what will happen in the future, but I really hope this program goes big.” he said. “Every year is getting better.”