Welcome to the sport of solar car racing! We are always excited to have new teams participate in this multi-disciplined project. While there is a lot to learn and we certainly cannot cover everything on one page, here are some important things to know.
Begin communications with the staff and other teams
Let the staff know your team is interested by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to submit the entry form for the event you are intending to participate in. The sooner you submit, the sooner you will be added to our list serve for announcements to registered teams. In addition to the staff, you will want to reach out to other solar car teams. While this is a competition, teamwork and sportsmanship are highly encouraged, and hence, you will find many teams willing to help you along the way. Check out our Google Group for open discussion with other teams, event staff, and solar car enthusiasts around the world. Finally, be sure to follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr pages for updates.
Read the regulations – then, re-read the regulations
The regulations are the rules that must be followed. Print them out and go through them line by line to ensure full compliance. Adherence to the regulations will be checked in an inspection process known as scrutineering, which must be successfully completed prior to actually competing in any of our events. Attention to detail is important, and if you need additional clarification on any point, contact the regulations manager at email@example.com. It is much better to ask a question in advance rather than showing up to the event with something that cannot easily be fixed.
Create a project plan and stick to it
For most teams, designing and building a car is a two year project, hence why the American Solar Challenge is typically held every two years. It is important to develop a plan that will allow time to design the car, order supplies, build all of the components, and assemble them into a working solar car. Even for veteran teams, some tasks take longer than expected, so plan accordingly. You will also want to allow time for testing your solar car to provide driver practice and work out any issues prior to the event.
Submit paperwork and entry fees on time
Deadlines are clearly documented in the regulations and on the website. The sooner we receive your technical vehicle reports, the sooner our inspectors can provide feedback on your designs. Legal paperwork, such as the participation agreement, proof of insurance, and even checks to cover entry fees, can sometimes take a while to process, so be sure to start this process with the appropriate parties at your university early. Being one of the first teams to “all green” on the pre-event status board gives you the opportunity to have early scrutineering time slots.
Car not done? Show up anyway
Even if the car is not finished, seriously consider coming to the competition anyway. This will allow you to see the scrutineering process, experience the event, and meet and learn from the other teams. It may even give you ideas of what to do (or not do) the following year. Also, teams that pass scrutineering early are usually eager to help other teams that need a hand finishing their car.
Don’t forget, it’s not just about the solar car
While the solar car is definitely important, most solar car teams operate as small businesses. In addition to the engineering side, it’s important to also have team members focused on fundraising, public relations, and logistics. Teams often require corporate and individual donations to cover the expenses of building the car and going to competition. Many teams participate in local car shows and other outreach events in their hometowns to build additional awareness of their project. Teams also need to coordinate all of their own logistics for the event, including hotels, meals, laundry, rental cars, a truck and trailer, and supply needed race equipment – radio communications, uniform shirts, safety supplies, and support vehicle signage. These items can often be overlooked, so plan ahead to avoid scrambling at the last minute.
Practice is an important, but often skipped, step in the process. Here are some suggestions for how to prepare.
- We’d recommend setting a goal of at least 1000 pre-race solar car test miles. Once the solar car is drivable, drive it. Start in the parking lot with egress and low speed driving. Run all planned drivers through the dynamic tests. When their drivers are comfortable, go on the road. If feasible, consider driving part of the actual route for an American Solar Challenge event using an actual route book. The more mileage you can get on the car before the event the better. Reliability is huge factor in the competition so try to get all the bugs worked out before you show up.
- For a mock-road event, make it a longer distance than the car can cover in a single day to setup a 2-3 day “stage” with a couple of “checkpoints.” Have roles assigned and run everything from morning charging to battery impound per the regulations. This will force your team to consider logistics (lodging, eating while driving, etc) and make sure you know what non-car gear needs to be packed. It will also help you learn about your solar car, strategy, team dynamics, who is best at which roles, etc.
When operating your solar car on the road be sure to always have a support caravan with trained personnel and all appropriate safety equipment.
- Create a daily checklist for things like water, food, fuel, checking solar car tire pressure, etc.
- Be prepared to have an observer and their luggage in your chase vehicle on the event.
- Things to bring along
- Amber flashers for your lead/chase vehicles
Safety equipment including first aid supplies, high visibility vests, cones, flags, fire extinguishers and suppression equipment, etc.
- Specific tool boxes for various tasks – front/rear tire changes, mechanical/electrical tools, etc.
- Spare keys for all vehicles
- Spare solar car tires
- Amber flashers for your lead/chase vehicles
- Things to practice
- Radio communications in your caravan of lead, solar car, and chase – only one team member should be in communication with the solar car on a separate channel than the rest of the caravan
- Navigating with a printed route book
- How to block traffic while solar car is changing lanes, getting on/off the shoulder, or making a turn
- Scouting ahead upcoming road conditions and hazards and searching for good end of day locations such as a lakes
- Tire changes
- Driver swaps
- Fueling the caravan
- Handling restroom emergencies
- Line of command and who has final say – arguments waste precious time