Illinois wins American Solar Challenge final leg, finishes sixth overall

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Photo courtesy of @illinisolarcarteam Instagram

The Illini Solar Car, Brizo, completes the 2022 American Solar Challenge at Twin Falls, ID on July 16. The team made it to the finish line at 12:36 p.m..

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The American Solar Challenge has drawn schools to compete for over 20 years, with 2022’s winners overall being MIT. Despite the sixth place finish, the Illini were crowned champions of the final leg of the race. 

Teams from different universities across the country spent years designing and building their own solar vehicles to enter the event. The competition began with three days of track racing at Heartland Motorsports Park, followed by a 1,500+ mile drive from Independence, Missouri to Twin Falls, Idaho.

The Illinois team consists of 24 students pursuing a mechanical science/engineering major, each having a unique role.

Members were tasked to build, operate and promote the vehicle for the challenge where drivers like sophomore Clark Taylor take the solar car through the course.

“The project started construction before I was here,” Taylor said. “I believe the original plan was to have it done for the World Solar Challenge, but complications came up with COVID and I was excited to drive.”

In 2018, construction began on the newest Illini Solar Car, Brizo, and showed the light, efficient design the Illini Solar Car team promotes on their website.

After three days on track, the Illini began to shine in the competition, as they began by “following the Oregon Trail.” 

“They were a big sponsor,” Taylor said. “And it’s a nice drive!”

Run completely on solar power, the team spent months focused on the most efficient routes for the vehicle to produce successful results in the competition. The Illini were eventually able to devise a winning game plan late in the race after testing the Brizo’s capabilities thoroughly.

“It’s not a time based race, it’s a distance based race,” Taylor said. “We had some alumni from the team and current members do strategy and it’s always about being efficient.”

With the race relying on distance, Taylor stated he was often driving around in circles to add mileage depending on the weather and how cloudy of a day it was.

The Illini executed their strategy well and were able to add the most miles during the final leg of the race to Twin Falls, but it did not come without a huge scare; one that would have ended Illinois’ years of hard work and prep.

“I was the driver one day when the vehicle almost got hit,” Taylor said. “We were waiting to take a turn and then a semi truck was unable to use their brakes in time. It almost hit our solar powered car which would’ve ended our race for sure.”

Fortunately for the Illini, the vehicle was unscathed and avoided a certain end to the competition. Though, Taylor “was definitely rattled after it happened.”

The lost time from the near miss forced the team to trailer the remainder of the route that day, but it was smooth sailing the rest of the competition for the Illini crew. Brizo arrived in Twin Falls at 12:36 on Saturday, July 16th finishing the trail with the longest distance traveled, and a first place finish in stage four of the race.

The fourth stage was the only drive where the Illini found success, but the team’s overall placements stacked up well against the competition. 

Brizo placed fourth in the track racing portion of the event with 258 total laps over the three day span, with its fastest lap recorded in 3:56. In the first stage of the challenge, the Illini finished fourth again after missing their checkpoint and driving 445.5 miles. 

A sixth place finish followed by a third place finish in the middle stages set the Illini up for their final victorious day, which was the shortest of the challenge at 129.1 miles.

Additionally, in the ASC’s inspector awards, Illinois won the safety and perseverance awards for the Brizo’s safety features and first place finish despite the near disaster in the fourth leg.

With another year under the team’s belt, next year’s squad has an incredible performance to build from. ASC 2023 will feature a new and improved Illinois Solar Car lineup, with tune ups and potentially a new build to compete even more with their national rivals.

 

@benfader7

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