For twenty-six years now, Ford and the University of Michigan Solar Car Team have shared a close relationship. With Ford’s sponsorship, we won the 2016 American Solar Challenge, contributing not only to our own legacy, but to the legacy of this storied partnership.
During the ASC, Ford provided us with four vehicles which made up a principal part of our caravan—Lead, Chase, Scout, and the team advisor’s car.
The caravan is important because it provides support for Aurum during the race. Lead travels 500 meters ahead of Aurum, navigating and keeping an eye out for problems ahead. Chase follows closely behind Aurum, monitoring its energy input and output and gauging what the best path forward is. Scout drives 10-15 minutes ahead, looking for potholes and filling them, marking them, moving roadkill and warning the main caravan of upcoming rough road or railroad tracks—anything that might impede Aurum’s ride.
Having reliable caravan vehicles to carry out these tasks greatly benefits the team.
Another significant contribution by Ford was its granting us access to the Jacobs Wind Tunnel prior to the race.
Michigan needed to test Aurum’s aerodynamics because it added a six-inch crush zone in the form of a bump to the car’s right side. This was in compliance with ASC safety regulations for the driver—the car had previously complied with World Solar Challenge regulations, and it had to undergo modifications before racing in the ASC. Although the bump met the rules, it created a dilemma: the team was concerned as to the kind of aerodynamic obstacle the bump posed.
At the Jacobs Wind Tunnel, Michigan took full advantage of the facility, conducting several aerodynamic tests. It was able to calculate aerodynamic forces on the car by experimenting with different wind speeds and yaw angles. It gauged turbulence with the introduction of smoke to the tunnel and with the use of tell tails, strings tied to the bump.
Thanks to Ford, Michigan had the opportunity to properly diagnose and quantify this aerodynamic hit. This allowed integration of the aerodynamic setback into the team’s strategy models, which meant clearer and more accurate pictures of what should be done throughout the race—it meant more reliable context for our strategists when making decisions.
Thank you again, Ford! We’re very grateful to have you as our partner.