Day 1- The Race Begins!

"Weather is a fickle thing."

That’s what Head Strategist Alan Li tells me when I ask him about the 2016 American Solar Challenge. Weather is a fickle thing, and when your race strategy hinges upon weather, you must get comfortable with the ambiguity.

The morning of Day 1, Alan runs simulations on both the WRF and IBM models, trying to gauge the weather outlook for the day and decide on a strategy.

Alan notes that since Aurum won the FSGP and is thus the first seed for the day, they could always go the speed of the second-seeded team behind them once they start. This would offer Michigan an opportunity to gauge its position relative to its opponents while assuring it will stay ahead of them, because each team leaves one minute after the team ahead of them in the FSGP-determined line-up. However, the strategy team decides this is not the optimal choice to make, and keeps it as a fallback plan.

Alan considers two possible approaches.

He can go the more aggressive routeuse more energy now and hope the weather will get betteror he can go the more conservative routedrive slower and save energy for later knowing that it will be cloudy.

Alan decides on something in between these two extremes, not wanting to burn out, but not wanting to fall behind, either.


"Weather is a fickle thing."

Fog hangs low over sleek solar car aerobodies and sticks to skin. Jokes fly around about what oh-so-wonderful weather this is for solar racing. No one’s too worried, though, because all teams start with a full battery pack.

As the team prepares for race start at eight, the air fills with excitement; this is the first solar race for most of the 2016 ASC race crew, and this feeling is like no other.

The team is positioned in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio, a place it went to about a month before on a mock race. “But then it was empty,” 2016 Business Director Sarah Zoellick explains. “This time it was full of people and other teamsit was the real deal.”

Team alumni and family members join the team at the starting line, there to support and cheer on Aurum and the people behind it.

Tradition dictates that longtime friend and sponsor to the team Chuck Hutchins run over the starting line beside the car with a University of Michigan flag in hand, but Chuck couldn’t make it this time. And so, when the clock strikes eight, longtime friend and advisor to the team Chito Garcia runs with the flag for the first time, accompanying Aurum as its maize and blue rolls past the black and white of the starting linethe race has begun!

Chito Garcia stands beside Aurum, ready with flag in hand for race start.

Chito Garcia stands beside Aurum, ready with flag in hand for race start.

"Weather is a fickle thing."

As the race progresses, the team keeps its eye on the weather.

The strategists sit in the Chase vehicle, looking at the large Intel monitor mounted to the back of the front seat. On its screen, the WRF model shows about 200 watts per meters squared less radiation than there actually is, as measured by the pyranometers provided to the team by Apogee Electronics and PP Systems. Pyranometers measure solar irradiance and solar radiation flux density, which allows the team to assess real time solar conditions. Given the 200 w/m^2 discrepancy, Alan thinks Aurum should be going faster. The decision the team faces now: will this 200 w/m^2 difference stay the whole day, or will it disappear? Alan consults his weatherman, Austin McDowell, to see if he thinks the weather will get any better, and together they decide that the bad weather is either going to persist or get even worse.

Upon deciding the 200 w/m^2 difference is here to stay, the team decides to push the set speed up to the speed limit, and Aurum arrives at the first checkpoint, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. The team charges Aurum for the designated forty-five minutes before hitting the road again, catching sight of another team as the car leaves.

Clouds no longer splotch the sky, and in accordance to what the models say, Aurum drives the speed limit for the rest of the day before settling in at six pm for its End of Day charge. Aurum gets some rest. The team gets some rest. Tomorrow, it continues.