PORTLAND, Ore. — After the first leg of the North American Solar Challenge—a 10-day photovoltaic-powered automobile race from Dallas to Calgary, Alberta (July 13-22)—Continuum has successfully defended its title.
The first leg of the race from Dallas to Neosho, Mo., found the University of Michiga's Continuum entry arriving first, about 16 minutes ahead of Principia College's second-place Ra 7. The University of Michigan has won four out of the eight North American Solar Challenges it has entered with its team of more than 100 engineering students, who have vowed to defend their title this year.
The 24 teams racing from Dallas to Calgary are mostly from American universities and colleges, but they also include Canadian entries such as Eclipse VI from Ecole de technologie superieure (ETS; Montreal) and Schulich 1 from the University of Calgary.
The cars look eerily similar—wide, flat expanses of body covered with solar cells, fairings around the wheels to reduce air drag, and a central bubble above the driver's tiny cockpit. The cars collect sunlight with solar cells while driving and before and after races, and store it in batteries.
Last year, at the World Solar Challenge in Australia, the University of Michigan's Continuum car was the first to use mirrors to track the sun and focus more light on its solar cells. This year, at the North American Solar Challenge, however, the officials have disqualified mirrors, so Continuum had to remove theirs and use ordinary solar cells instead.
"We were disappointed that they disqualified our solar concentrator system," said a spokesperson. "But we are still leading, even without it."
The last major race, in the Australian desert, saw plenty of sunlight for most of the race, but this year the weather could be slowing down contenders that rely on sunlight for power. The sun was apparently not strong enough for 22 out of 24 entries, because only Principia and Ra 7 checked in at the Neosho check point by 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 13. Monday was a rest day for recharging batteries and for the other 22 entries to get their cars to Neosho for the second leg, which got under way Tuesday, July 15, at 9 a.m.