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. 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 get, 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, often teams which pass scrutineering early are more than willing 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 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, practice, practice
Practice is an important, but often skipped, step in the process. In addition to giving your solar car drivers ample time behind the wheel, also practice what the other members of the race crew will be doing in the pits and support vehicles. Practice tire changes and swapping drivers. Practice radio communications in your caravan of lead, solar car, and chase. Practice a simulated race day or perhaps a week. This will help the entire race crew gain experience and confidence for the event.