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The American Solar Challenge is an endurance event, taking teams on a cross-country voyage covering over 800 miles on U.S. public highways. The track-based Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP), as in previous years, will precede the endurance race and serve as a qualifier for starting placement in the ASC.
Our first day of racing was marked by a great start and finish. We were on the starting grid in the morning and started with no issues. After a few morning laps, though, we had a wheel come off in the exit of turn 7. The set screw for the wheel nut was faulty and got sheared off. Amazingly there was no body, suspension or wheel damage. We were able to get in a rescue van and reattach the wheel and send ROSE into the pit. After we were confident that all the wheels were good and the issue would not repeat, we sent ROSE out for more laps.
After another complete lap, though, we were starting to have brake trouble. The brakes were engaging without having the pedal pushed down. This was unusual, as we try to minimize brake usage during the track race portion to conserve speed and energy. After bleeding the brakes in cold pit and sending out for another test lap, the issue was still present. We pulled ROSE into the garage to troubleshoot the issue. Finally, after a total of five hours from the start of the brake issues, we found what was causing it. There was a cable that kept the brakes from going to the floor and it had gotten caught and was forcing the pedal down. We were able to quickly fix it and get back on the track with an hour of racing left in the day. Overall, we finished the day with 29 laps total. We were able to qualify our first driver and get a start on our second drivers.
Although it wasn’t quite the first day of racing we had hoped for, it was a step up from last year. In fact, this was the best ROSE has ever done on the first day of FSGP. We also feel confident we have sorted out any remaining issues and hope to run laps event-free tomorrow. Our plan is still to focus on qualifying the rest of our drivers and the car. We need 124 laps total between the rest of the track days, or 82 laps in one day, to qualify for ASC. We also want to gather more data on our new battery. This has been the most testing we’ve been able to do in ROSE with our new battery. We’re confident our performance will be much better tomorrow. All of our issues were fixable mechanical issues, which is much better than unknown electrical issues. Even though we were only on the track for a fraction of the time, that time on the track showed good speed and competitive laps, so we’re looking forward to the next two days.
We woke up on the final day of scrutineering eager to complete what was left on the car. We spent the morning getting the car ready to fully pass electrical and mechanical scrutineering. There was only one issue for each before we were ready to hit the track. After we fixed those issues, we cleared our radio communications and water for driver operations scrutineering.
It was overall a calmer day. After we had spent the morning fixing issues and the afternoon getting them inspected, we ran our scrutineering sheet to HQ. We were cleared to be on the track a little after 4pm. We spent the rest of the evening cleaning our garage and preparing ROSE for the track. After that, the team went out for dinner together. Our drivers for the morning went to bed early, and we spent the rest of the time before going to bed packing the van for the hot pit in the morning.
Our strategy for the first day of racing is to qualify each individual driver for ASC. Each driver has to complete 22 laps. If we stay on our target speed of 35 mph, we should have plenty of time to complete the 88 laps. If we have any issues or interruptions the first day, we will continue to prioritize qualifying drivers and ROSE. Our priority is to prepare for ASC. We will do everything in our power to win FSGP if possible, but if we have any issues we will take the time to address them completely while at the track. It is easier to fix issues with access to a garage than it is while on the road for ASC. While we want to be as competitive as possible for FSGP, FSGP is only a qualifying event, and our goal is to win ASC. What is most important for us during this track race is to be quick to solve issues and test ROSE as much as possible.
The team was able to get a good night's rest after the success of dynamics Saturday. We woke up early to make a few adjustments to the car before we went to spend the day at dynamics. We were able to get through all of dynamics by 3pm.
We did U-turn in one try, along with break test and slalom in just a few tries. The figure-8 took a bit longer. You have to do the full figure-8 in less than 18 seconds and since the car doesn't have power steering it's taxing on the driver. We were soon able to pass that as well though. Passing dynamics this early gives us much more breathing room for the rest of scrutineering. Only a couple teams have completed it, and there are still almost 20 left that need to go through it with only 1 more full day until the track race. It is great we got it done before it gets too crowded. All we have left is to check off some small scrutineering problems and get everything cleared to turn into HQ. We are very optimistic that we will get onto the track the full time with no penalties, which again is much better than last year. We only got on the track for 1 and a half days and we had penalties for an incomplete parking brake.
We were able to work at a more relaxed pace and mood in the evening, and even set up a projector to the side of our trailer to watch some of the team videos that our media team has put together so far. We spend our free time cleaning up our garage and those who didn’t have to work on projects for scrutineering in the morning went to bed early. We will have a track tour after the morning meeting with the event organizers so our drivers will be able to learn the track before the race. We will test radio communication during this as well. It seems like our radios are much better this year and we'll have full track communication for our drivers. This is critical because there are many more cars this year and the track race will be full of cars passing each other. Many of the single-occupancy solar cars cannot see or hear well so even though we use our horn we have to be extremely careful around other cars on the track. There is definitely an added level of safety and comfort being in a larger multi-occupancy vehicle car. Looking at all the other cars, ours seems to be the most comfortable. This is thanks to our excellent mechanical team working hard on the interior.
Overall though the team feels much more confident and relaxed than last year. We are still nervous and stressed, but we know we can get it all done in time.
This second day of scrutineering had a rough start, but a strong finish. The team pulled an all nighter the night before in preparation for scrutineering. This is mostly due to our new battery. We did not even get the material to build our battery box until days before we left for the race. This was the first time we were putting the battery in the car and there were many small issues to address with mounting. Although all the work was worth it as we woke up to see ROSE driving on its own power for the first time in almost a year. It also rained all night and all morning. Half of our tents ended up getting puddles in them.
Despite this though, we are in much better shape by the evening. Not to mention how much better off we are than this time last year. We struggled through scrutineering and did not get onto the track until the second day of racing. This year we're already almost done with scrutineering with 2 more days to go. We are ready to start dynamics testing in the morning, which will be figure-8, U-turn, slalom, and break test. Slalom and figure-8 are challenging because you have to complete them within a time limit, so they need to be done at high speeds. There was a single-occupancy team that rolled their car on the side during the slalom test today. It is actually not uncommon for their style of car because its very thin and too heavy. Luckily the driver and car were all right and they went on to be the first team to complete all scrutineering and dynamics and get pole position for the track race.
Due to the width, weight, and size of our car we don’t really face that concern with ROSE. We are concerned about any faults for our vehicle though. Since the battery is so new, all the systems are working with a new battery so we are unsure what issues may arise during driving and testing. We were able to practice dynamics in the parking lot in the evening, but received an unusual system fault. The car is driving and running fine although it is possible there is a short or the cracks in the pavement could have caused issues. The electrical team is working late in the night troubleshooting issues though, and they will do everything in their power to address this issue before dynamics in the morning.
Our new battery from Envision does provide some advantage from last year in regards to faults though. Our new battery is able to handle higher temperatures than our last battery. It is also manufactured so it has more testing compared to our student made battery. This allows us to focus more time to the rest of the electronics systems of the car. In this regard the battery system has given the team much more confidence. Again though, it has been challenging just due to the timing of us getting the battery and the lack of testing. All we can do is try to anticipate any issues as well as addressing them quickly if they appear. There is a remarkable amount of flexibility from the team during this time. Especially with our student leadership team. We have had the luxury of working together for almost 2 years now and we have learned to rely on and lean on each other, regardless of specialties. Despite the different sub teams of electrical, mechanical, and business, the leaders all feel confident asking each other for a hand or help with their specific issues.
All the teams started the day with a 9 am meeting in the scrutineering building. The FSGP organizers covered the track rules and the schedule for the week. There are 21 different schools participating this year. These teams are from all over the country, as well as 3 teams from Canada. As usual, all the teams are extremely friendly and helpful. The environment is most collaborative during scrutineering, as we all want every team to be able to compete on the track.
After the meeting we went back to the garage to eat breakfast and work. The team wasn’t scheduled for any scrutineering time slots until Saturday so we were able to have more time to prepare. This was ideal because we were facing battery issues from the previous night and spent the bulk of the daylight fixing these issues. Once we got these problems solved we were able to get started on battery scrutineering by taking the 3pm slot of another team that wasn’t ready. We made good progress, but had to make some wiring adjustments and ran out of time. The plan for the rest of the day and the night is to address all parts for the scrutineering checklist to get through all our stations as quickly as possible tomorrow.
The quicker we’re able to get through scrutineering tomorrow the easier it will be for us to complete dynamics testing. Dynamics is where they test the car's maneuverability and breaking. This tends to be the biggest holdup for passing all the checklists for getting onto the track, as it is first come, first served for the teams. Dynamics opens tomorrow so we hope to at least complete one of the tests by the evening. There are 4 days total of scrutineering including today so it is critical we get through as much as we can tomorrow. Pole position for the start of the track race is also determined by the order a team passes scrutineering, although this is not as critical due to the length and endurance of the race.
What is most important is that we get out on the track the first day of racing. If we do not pass all of the dynamics tests in time we will have to continue to pass tests while other teams complete laps. Our strategy right now is to do everything possible to be on the track the full 3 days of track racing. The time crunch and late nights are a challenge though, and rain is expected all day Saturday. Despite all this, we feel confident about this goal and are all looking forward to getting out on the track.
The team worked until a bit past 3am on the switch panel and battery mounting. Despite this, we made sure to wake up in time for the free hotel breakfast. We sat around and had coffee and waffles looking forward to arriving at the track later in the day. The track officials wouldn’t let any teams check in until noon, so we were able to relax for the morning as a team. Students who were at last year's race were telling stories and sharing advice with new team members on their first trip. Everyone was also excited to see all the other teams.
We went back to our rooms to pack up and meet back by the convoy to load everything. We had our first team meeting, covering our strategy and plans for the week ahead. We left an hour early in order to be first in line to check in. We got our wristbands and paperwork from the track officials and waited as we watched team after team arrive and line up. We first met a team from the University of Florida. A team from an engineering school in Canada arrived. As teams arrived they introduced themselves and asked questions about the competition. There are almost twice as many teams than last year, so we are able to meet more students in our field.
Once the track officials let us in at noon, we immediately got to unpacking. Once we had the garage ready, we took to setting up the campsite and cooking equipment. We got started on lunch while the rest of the team unpacked ROSE and got it ready for scrutineering.
The rest of the day was routine for the FSGP. We worked late into the night with a level of professionalism and determination. It is incredibly rewarding working around such a talented group of students, all with the same goal. The whole team is eager to test the limits of the car on the track come Tuesday.
We woke up early for the second day of travel. After packing up our campsite, we were on the road again — ahead of schedule. We wanted to get to Topeka much earlier than last year.
We stopped for lunch just after entering Illinois to get lunch and gas. Then we pushed through the rest of Illinois and Missouri, only stopping briefly for gas or bathroom breaks. We have our advisors to thank for driving non-stop these last two days to get us to Kansas, and the track, with as much time as possible to prepare for scrutineering.
After arriving at our hotel in Topeka, we split into our rooms to get the last hot shower we would have for the week. The rest of the week we will camp at the track. The team leaders split off to discuss what needed to be done before arriving at the track tomorrow. We all went out for dinner as a team, then got right back to work in the hotel parking lot. Despite this being the last time we would sleep on a bed for a week, the team still worked until 3am. The biggest limiting factor for the next few days leading into scrutineering is time, and the whole team knows it. We anticipate many late nights of hard work. Despite knowing this, spirits continue to rise as excitement for the race builds.
After spending the weekend at the warehouse working around the clock, the team met early in the morning on Tuesday to pack the convoy for the trip. We packed the scout van with all our camping and food supplies; then we packed our battery in our media van to ensure safe travels on the way out to Kansas. Finally, we packed our truck and trailer with everything we need to equip our garage at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas. Thankfully the FSGP is at the same location as last year, so the facilities will be familiar to the team.
This year’s team is made up of 18 students, a third of whom raced in 2021. Our departure this year was familiar, but different than last year. While the stress and late night work is similar, the anxious feelings from last year are replaced with anticipation. The team was completely new to racing last year. We now have the experience and tools to start this competition with the confidence we lacked last year. The work is hard but the hopes are also high. Our entire student leadership team are veterans of last year's race, and can now focus on leading new and inexperienced members to success.
We drove all day to our campsite in Paducah, Kentucky. In contrast to last year's all night outdoor camping workshop, we were able to set up camp and get to bed early.