AUSTIN (KXAN) – Saturday’s sunshine was just what the mechanic ordered at Circuit of the Americas.
A different kind of race wrapped up there over the weekend, as college students from Central Texas and beyond charged up and charged around the track.
“It’s a new experience for all of us, and we’re all trying to just figure out what to do,” Cole Forsythe, a junior mechanical engineering student at the University of Texas, said. Each lap in the Formula Sun Grand Prix is a lesson for him and other UT students.
“Every day we’ve encountered a problem that we thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be the end of it,'” he said. Forsythe and the rest of the team are new to these races. “And then somehow we’re able to just, to figure out the solution, overcome it, and the next day we’re out on the track again.”
The students were at the track to race the solar-powered car their predecessors designed and built, named TexSun. The car is equipped with a solar array covering the top of the large, flat body that recharges battery packs.
During the three-day endurance race in which the most laps wins, teams are only allowed to recharge with the sun or forfeit the laps they earned the previous day. It requires them to work out how fast they should go to conserve power over an eight-hour stretch.
“It’s not a textbook problem, you know, it’s not a structured problem just for class that you’re getting graded on,” Gail Lueck, FSGP’s director, said.
UT was one of 16 schools racking up as many laps as they could, eight hours a day for three days straight. (Eighteen teams registered, but two were disqualified.)
“These cars are set up for kind of your hyper-efficiency,” said Lueck, who originally became interested in solar car racing as a student herself. “There’s no air conditioning in the car so the driver just sweats it out.”
“We like to say that when the car’s off, it becomes the world’s most efficient solar oven versus solar car,” one of the UT team members joked.
The school’s current car is on its way out. “This is her last race probably, officially,” Jasmine Baker. a team member and mentor, said.
Changes in regulations necessitate the school build a new model before the next cross-country race, the American Solar Challenge. Those races are held every two years, and the next will be in 2018. The Formula Sun race is a chance for students to race and work out kinks between the major races.
Forsythe has been working on the design for the new car for a year, he said, and they plan to get started building in the fall.
Its name: BeVolt.
“We’re not in a position to win this year,” Baker said, looking at the standings at the race track. “Except we are winning in terms of we’re all learning, we’re out here having a good time.”
Indeed, by the end of the day, UT ranked 9th in total number of laps. The team from the University of California, Berkeley won; Appalachian State University came in second, followed by a team from Polytechnique Montreal.
For students like Forsythe, the lessons trump the laps.
“It’s the perfect answer to the interview question of like, talk about something that’s gone wrong and what was your process to fix it,” he said. “We have a lot to talk about for that.”