Campus solar vehicle team comes in 1st at Formula Sun Grand Prix

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On Saturday, CalSol, a campus solar vehicle team, won the Formula Sun Grand Prix, or FSGP, an annual nationwide solar vehicle track race.

The 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix — held in Austin, Texas, at the Circuit of The Americas — included 18 college teams competing in a challenge to design, build and drive a solar-powered vehicle in a track-style race.

The winner was determined by whichever team’s vehicle completed the most laps, with penalties given to racers for violations, according to campus rising sophomore and CalSol member Wen Rui Liau.

CalSol’s four-year-old solar-powered vehicle, named Zephyr, finished in first place, completing 228 laps with zero penalties.

“Zephyr’s been around for four years now, and multiple generations of CalSol team members have been a part of its journey,” rising junior and CalSol operations director Andre He said in an email. “It’s incredible that Zephyr’s final race, after tough runs at races in the past and setbacks in between races, ended in our first win in 27 years of our team’s history.”

The competition took place in two phases. The first phase, spanning from July 3 to July 5, was the “scrutineering phase,” in which Zephyr had to pass brake tests, weave in and out of cones within 12 seconds and undergo driver operations tests.

From July 6 to July 8, the teams who passed this first phase went on to race on a 3.426-mile “Circuit of The Americas” track configuration.

A thunderstorm and rain at this year’s race presented an additional challenge for racers, but Liau said these factors did not deter the team, which used hydrophobic coating and tape to protect the vehicle.

With about 70 active members, CalSol is split into three teams — operations, mechanical and electrical — that manage a variety of responsibilities, including business operations, design, construction of the vehicle and electrical components.

Zephyr previously competed in the FSGP, and finished ninth in the 2016 American Solar Challenge. This year’s FSGP was Zephyr’s last competition.

Liau said the team made many small improvements to Zephyr since last year, including adjusting vents in the front of the car to reduce the chance of the vehicle’s battery overheating.

“Progressively improving Zephyr over the years … I cannot think of a better way to retire her,” Liau said in an email.

CalSol plans on constructing a new vehicle, named Tachyon, for future competitions which will build on and improve upon Zephyr’s design.

Hannah Reher, a rising campus junior and co-program director of CalSol, said in an email the victory was a team effort that involved the investment and support of many people.

“Despite the long hours, heat, and time crunch, (the team was) like a well-oiled machine and leapt into every task with so much enthusiasm, dedication, and good will,” Reher said in an email. “Together we’ve gone through crushing disappointments and ecstatic breakthroughs. We’ve learned from our mistakes and past experiences and made every effort to continually improve.”

Contact Atira Nair at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @atirastar.