Day 5- Start of Stage Three

Stages One and Two were so cloudy that a joke started going around: every time an official named Adam biked past any team, they would jokingly call out to him, saying, “It’s another great day for solar car racing!”

Stage Three starts out differently. The sun shines as solar car Aurum leaves the Start of Stage location in Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Missouri.

Aurum in Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Missouri.

Aurum in Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Missouri.

After driving up the western side of Missouri at around 55-60 miles per hour, Aurum arrives at the first checkpoint of Stage 3 in Topeka, Kansas, and begins its 45 minutes of allotted checkpoint charge.

Sunny conditions have persisted, and it’s hot, too. 2016 Head Strategist Alan Li describes Driver and Race Mechanical Engineer Andrew Toennis’ shirt drenched in sweat. That’s how hot it is, a far cry from the thunder and lightning of Day 3.

At this point in the race, the University of Toronto is the closest team behind Aurum, and the University of Michigan expects to see them in Topeka. But 45 minutes come and go, and no Toronto. Michigan takes stock of the situation: this means that, at best, the nearest team is 45 minutes away.

Michigan leaves Topeka and heads towards the second checkpoint of Stage 3 in Beatrice, Nebraska. Alan’s simulations inform him that Michigan can hit Beatrice if it wants to, but the simulations give an estimated time of arrival of 6:10-6:15.

This poses a question, because the two-hour-long End of Day charge starts at 6:00 PM; if Michigan were to arrive at the Beatrice checkpoint for its End of Day charge, it would forfeit its 45-minute checkpoint charge and, instead of charging for a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes, Aurum would only charge for two. Going to Beatrice is Option #1, and makes Alan uneasy, because it would mean lost energy: “I don’t like lost energy.” Option #2 was to stop Aurum before the checkpoint and get the two-hour End of Day charge there, then go on to the checkpoint in the morning and charge for 45 minutes there. Option #2 would mean a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes of charging time.

Alan chooses Option #2 and Michigan stops one mile outside of Beatrice.

But the simulations show that the End of Day charge may get Aurum close to fully charged. Alan says he messed up, that the correct decision would’ve been to go straight to Beatrice, because the next morning, on Day 6, when Aurum pulls into the checkpoint after a 2-hour Start of Day charge as well, it does so with a full battery pack; it can’t store any more energy. But Michigan has to observe the 45 minute checkpoint time and cannot leave before the 45 minutes are up, so the team stays longer than it has to, spending precious time off the road.

In the grand scheme of the 2016 American Solar Challenge however, this slip-up did not matter for the University of Michigan. The team took note of and learned from its mistakes, and looked forward to the route ahead.