That's exactly what the University of Michigan's Solar Car Team did with its solar-powered vehicle last week when it won the 2012 American Solar Challenge – the fourth year in a row the team has taken the crown.
Michigan's car, called Quantum, made the 1,650-mile trip from Rochester, NY, to St. Paul, MN, in 44 hours and 36 minutes, beating second-place finisher Iowa State by a record 10 hours and 18 minutes.
Michigan says the car is 200 pounds lighter than any other car it's entered in the 22-year history of the race and 30 percent more aerodynamic. The vehicle, which has received sponsorship funds from both General Motors and Ford, finished third in last year's World Solar Challenge in Australia.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.-Despite being challenged by bad weather conditions along the way, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team won the 2012 American Solar Challenge with their car Quantum for a fourth consecutive American title, breaking a national record for margin of victory.
The University of Michigan Solar Car Team, with its car Quantum, crosses the finish line at 2:30pm on July 21, 2012 at the American Solar Car Challenge in St Paul, Minn.. The team won its fourth consecutive national championship with this event (and 7th overall), and broke the national record, winning by 10 hours and 18 minutes over its nearest competitor.
The eight-day, biennial 1,650-mile competition for solar-powered vehicles started July 14 in Rochester, N.Y., and ended July 21 in St. Paul, Minn. The U-M car crossed the finish line at about 2:30 p.m. CDT for a final time of 44 hours, 36 minutes and 21 seconds-10 hours and 18 minutes ahead of second-place Iowa State University, breaking the national record set by U-M in 2008 with its car Continuum.
This is the seventh North American title for the U-M team, which won the inaugural event in 1990 with its first car, the Sunrunner.It is exciting and a relief," said crew chief and recent electrical engineering grad Ryan Mazur. "We have proven that Quantum is a great car and made all our alumni proud."
The racers encountered some bad weather conditions on the route, including intense rain on the second and last day of racing. U-M took advantage of the weather on day two, acquiring a two-hour lead as other teams hampered by the rain were forced to drive slower to preserve their energy.
Their lead continued to increase throughout the race. However, a bad storm on the last day of racing forced U-M to pull over a few times to adjust the vehicle in the rain, once for "irregular rotation of the vehicle."
"We've tested the car extensively in the rain, and each of our drivers has practiced in the rain, so that really gave us an advantage," said mechanical engineering student and 2012 lead strategist A.J. Trublowksi. "While our overall strategy stayed mostly the same, we definitely had to make some adjustments to adverse weather conditions."
Racing in bad weather is always a challenge. According to 2011 race manager Rachel Kramer, the teams' strategy units will usually take the lead on speed and tactics, but safety is always a concern.
"You need a lot of experience and talented people in bad weather, and a lot of communication between the driver and the rest of the team," she said."Ultimately, it's up to the driver-it's their call when safety is an issue."
Compared with previous routes, the 2012 path cut through more cities and towns, allowing for more encounters with fans, but also increasing the difficulty for the teams.
"This was a very interesting and difficult route," Mazur said. "The varying places we were driving made things a challenge from a navigation standpoint. We had to deal with heavy traffic and dangerous drivers on busy roads often."
Quantum, U-M's lightest-ever vehicle, finished third in the World Solar Challenge in Australia last fall. It weighs a full 200 pounds less than its most recent predecessor, and it is 30 percent more aerodynamic.
The U-M Solar Car Team has finished third in the World Solar Challenge five times, most recently in 2011. With more than 100 students from schools and colleges across the university, U-M Solar Car is one of the largest student organizations on campus.
"The atmosphere on solar car is unlike anything I have ever experienced before," said race manager Jordan Feight, an atmospheric and oceanic space sciences student. "The dedication and commitment to push beyond what was previously possible is simply amazing. There has been no class that has come to close to paralleling the knowledge I have picked up being on the solar car team."
Major sponsors of the U-M Solar Car team include IMRA America, Michigan Engineering, Ford and General Motors.