NORMAL — The rain came down as Illinois State University's solar car team arrived in Ohio on Friday to get ready for the American Solar Challenge road race, but students retained a sunny outlook.
ISU finished fifth among 20 teams from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada at the Formula Sun Grand Prix track race in Pennsylvania, leading up to the ASC.
The team also had the second fastest lap, 1 minute and 54 seconds. The fastest lap, 1:14, was turned in by the University of Michigan, which finished first with 518 total laps. ISU completed 327 laps in the three-day race, which ended Thursday.
Jim Dunham, an ISU model maker who serves as an adviser for the team, thinks this year's car is “our best one so far. It's our most competitive.”
He said the three-day track race was “a good shakedown” for the 1,975-mile cross-country road race.
Only 11 teams qualified for the road race with their performances at the track race and two teams received provisional qualification. Three teams were unable to pass “scrutineering” and unable to participate in the track race.
Team leader Nick Reichman feels good about the team's chances.
Both he and Dunham think they have a reliable car — a key to doing well.
“We had a few issues on Day One. We got those kinks out.,” Reichman said. “Days two and three ran smoothly.”
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The graduate student in project management from Crystal Lake said the team will make “a few tweaks here and there” before the road race begins Saturday morning at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio.
The route will take teams through seven states and nine national parks, historic sites or National Park Service partner properties before ending at Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, S.D., on Aug. 6.
Reichman and the other three drivers will take turns behind the wheel, usually in four-hour stints.
Driver Brad Derry of Tinley Park is looking forward to “finally being able to see our yearlong hard work come together.”
Derry, who graduated in May with a degree in entrepreneurship and small business management, said being on the team helped him build leadership and business skills. He was the mechanical leader for the group and also wrote reports and worked to find sponsors.
“The whole thing has been incredible,” Derry said, noting that Dunham “makes sure we actually learn something.”
Weather challenges are just part of the race.
“The first few days, we're going to have very little sun,” Reichman said. "We'll keep an eye on the weather.”
Part of the “shakedown” during the track race was figuring out the rate of power consumption of the car's new hub motors and the best configuration for the batteries, Reichman explained.
While on public roads for the Solar Challenge, the solar car will have a lead vehicle and a chase vehicle. Team members in those vehicles will help with safety and navigation as well as monitoring systems within the solar car, such as power consumption.
Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota
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