NORMAL — The sun set early this year on the Illinois State University solar car team as an electrical problem prevented it from competing in the Formula Sun Grand Prix and qualifying for the American Solar Challenge road race.
But rather than slipping silently into the night, five team members continued their journey by splitting up to help the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Western Michigan University teams.
Jim Dunham, an ISU model maker who serves as an adviser to the team, said the car had passed all the “dynamic” testing such as braking and steering through a slalom course.
“They were just about to take the track and the motor controller quit,” said Dunham. “Basically, they needed one more day.”
The ISU Solar Car Team was founded in 2005. This would have been the first competition for the team's latest car, Mercury 6, which had to be built from scratch after car specifications were changed for this year's race.
“That was the entire problem. None of the students on the team had worked on a new car,” said Dunham.
Although the team didn't qualify for the race, Dunham noted, “The main purpose of the program is for the students to learn stuff and they learned a lot. … Everything they did will not go to waste.”
They will be able to put what they learned to use as they continue to work on Mercury 6 in preparation for next year's track race.
“We'll use the same car next summer and that's usually the race where we do well,” said Dunham.
The team's best finishes were in 2011 and 2013 when it took second place in the Formula Sun Grand Prix track races and 2015, when it placed third in the track race. The team finished fifth last year, just missing fourth place.
Every other year, such as this one, there also is a road race, for which the track race serves as a qualifier.
“The kids did a good job,” said Dunham. “It's amazing how much they accomplished.”