The University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team won the North American Solar Challenge, crossing the finish line in Alberta, Canada on Tuesday after more than 50 hours of racing over nine days.
The Continuum team defended U-M's title from 2005, the last year the race was held. This is the fifth time Michigan finished first in this competition.
"The students of the U-M Solar Car Team have come from all corners of our campus to show that teamwork and innovation are critical to success," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. "They have also demonstrated the promise of alternative energy and new technologies with the championship run of their car, Continuum. The campus community applauds such an impressive performance in this year's race."
The car averaged around 45 mph and led from the first day, besting 15 university teams that raced the 2,400-mile course from Plano, Texas to Calgary. Continuum finished about 10 hours before the second place team.
"This is a testament to the dedication of all the people who came back after the World Solar Challenge (in October 2007) and rebuilt the car. Many of the systems were completely redesigned. We did a lot of testing and that, coupled with a strong team, got us this far. We strived for perfection," said race manager Jeff Ferman, who graduated in May from the College of Engineering with a computer science degree.
The victory is sweet because it follows a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 2007 World Solar Challenge in Australia, when an early crash set the team back. No one was hurt. The students rallied to repair the car and managed to pass two dozen teams, but not enough to fulfill their hopes.
"Coming off the World Solar Challenge, we wanted to show what the car was capable of. It led people to push themselves even harder for a comeback," Ferman said.
Brian Gilchrist, one of the team's advisers, is proud of the students. Gilchrist is interim chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
"This team has handled adversity and challenges well. The students have maintained composure and a level of professionalism and high standards that is inspiring for all of us," Gilchrist said.
The Michigan team's legacy is as old as solar car racing itself. With its first solar car Sunrunner in 1990, U-M won the inaugural North American race, then called the SunRayce. The car called Maize and Blue finished first in 1993. M-Pulse won in 2001 and Momentum did in 2005. Michigan teams have finished third in the World Solar Challenge three times: in 1990, 2001 and 2005.
The Michigan team had an advantage in the 2008 North American race because it already had a car built in September 2007 when race officials announced they would hold the challenge in July 2008. Other teams that hadn't competed in the World Solar Challenge in 2007 had only 10 months to design, build and test a car. But Michigan could instead spend time tweaking Continuum.
The North American Solar Challenge normally takes place every other year in the same year as the world race, but in 2007 its previous sponsor backed out. The race's future was in question until Toyota took over the sponsorship.
With more than 100 members, Solar Car is one of the largest student organizations on campus, including students from the College of Engineering, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Ross School of Business, the School of Art & Design, and the School of Education.