UC Berkeley solar vehicle team races again in American Solar Challenge

Photo of CalSol car
Alexander Zerkle/Courtesy
UC Berkeley’s solar vehicle team, CalSol, will race the eighth-generation model Zephyr in the upcoming Formula Sun Grand Prix event in August.

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CalSol, UC Berkeley’s solar vehicle team, will be competing against other colleges in the biennial American Solar Challenge, or ASC, from Aug. 3 to Aug. 7, making the trek from Independence, Missouri to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The team, founded in 1990, is in the process of designing its 10th “fully street-legal, solar-powered vehicle,” according to Ray Altenberg, a CalSol operations team member. CalSol competes both nationally and internationally and has participated in the ASC since the club was first founded.

“Being a collegiate level event and the nominal 4 year college experience, participating in the event this year will help those teams with ongoing knowledge transfer and provide a multi-disciplined, hands on, experiential learning opportunity,” said Gail Lueck, the ASC’s event and operations director, in an email.

This year, CalSol’s main goal is to train its newest members in the logistics of racing, according to Lekha Duvvoori, the team’s engineering director. CalSol last competed in the ASC in 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed subsequent challenges.

“There’s a lot of members that, while they’ve been designing things online, haven’t had much physical interaction with actually making parts or fixing cars or changing a tire,” Duvvoori said. “I’m hoping we create a strong group of younger students to understand how these cars function and to be able to continue on strongly.”

CalSol will race its eighth-generation model, Zephyr, named after the westerly breeze, according to Altenberg. It will be raced in both the ASC’s Formula Sun Grand Prix track event and the later drive from Missouri to New Mexico.

The team gained access to a physical workspace mid-June when the campus’s Richmond Field Station opened, Altenberg noted. The last few weeks consisted of testing Zephyr on the road.

“Because of regulations, we had to disconnect some panels for this race,” Altenberg said. “We hope that Zephyr will at least get a lot of laps in.”

Driving the car will be a difficult endeavor as it was designed to fit a person with a height of little more than five feet. The driver sits about seven inches off the ground, according to Altenberg.

Since Zephyr was built to carry a light load, the driver can feel the impact of railroad tracks or bumps, Duvvoori added.

Zephyr has performed well in past ASC track events, winning first place in the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix and second place in 2018. Duvvoori said she hopes that the car will place in the top three.

Winners of the race are given a trophy to showcase at their school, according to Lueck. Specific performance-based awards are given for separate aspects of the event.

Contact Lauren Huang at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @Laurenhuang72.