Michigan Engineering News

Blue through the Outback | Race, day four

Racing clean and collected, Michigan holds on to second place with the finish line on the horizon

Nate Silverman woke up at 4:30 in the morning to a thunderstorm whipping against the rainfly of the driver’s tent. The sweeping wind yanked the array crew’s rainfly clean off. Able to get a couple more hours rest, Silverman awoke to see Novum under a canopy. The subsequent cloud-covered sunrise charge left much to be desired. Sparing no team, the weather has been a formidable opponent for the last thirty-six hours.

“It’s going to be a long drive to Cooper Pedy if we don’t get any sun this morning,” says Silverman as he prepares to take the morning shift behind the wheel.

Fortunately, it’s not long down the road when hints of blue emerge overhead. The sun begins to pepper the vast expanse surrounding the Stuart Highway – periodically finding Michigan’s small yellow solar car. Looking to boost their power reserves, the team strategists decide to do some cloud chasing, whereby they adjust speed to maximize drive time under sunny spots.

Now a few hundred kilometers past the halfway point of the race route, Michigan’s narrow lead over the third and fourth place vehicles becomes even more precious. The team strategists radio a request that the scout car pull over and use the anemometer to report on the upcoming wind conditions. These requests are repeated throughout the day. The additional weather validation will help ensure that their strategy models are as accurate as possible.

Racing in inclement weather is nothing new for lead strategist Alan Li. He helped crunch the numbers that led to Michigan’s iconic rain-drenched win at the 2016 American Solar Challenge. Their car, Aurum, was the only one to finish the race under its own power.

Robert Vogt, an alumnus of the Michigan Solar Car Team, talks about how strategy plays into racing a solar car in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

Rolling out of the day’s first control stop, Michigan holds on to second place, but only by a few minutes. The clouds decrease, but the wind picks up – gusting upwards of 25 MPH. Dashing by, the landscape settles into a new realm of monotonous desolation. But, it’s a welcome view for Michigan. Novum has been here before. During their mock race in September, the team became very familiar with the section of highway leading up to the day’s second control stop, Glendambo.

Perhaps the home court advantage paid off. Michigan and Nuon were the only teams to reach the Glendambo control stop on the end of day four. However, Punch and Twente are still right on Michigan’s heels.

The finish line in Adelaide is roughly 590 kilometers away. Although Novum raced 640 kilometers today, nothing is guaranteed. The team knows that the competition is fierce and even the smallest mistake will leave them vulnerable. Getting comfortable is not an option.

“Treat tomorrow like it’s the first day of the race,” says head strategist Alan Li during the evening huddle.

“Of course, we’ll remember what place we get,” says engineering director Clayton Dailey. “We’ll also remember the mistakes we’ve made. But we’ll also remember how much we’ve grown together. This team has come a long way. We’ve pushed through, and as of right now have the second-best car in the world.”

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