Monday, November 24, 2008

Back from the race, back to work.

The University of Kentucky Solar Car Team has made some great progress since returning from the 2008 North American Solar Challenge. Initially focusing on recruiting efforts, we participated in several K-Week activities at the start of the Fall semester, including leading a parade through campus. In addition to great publicity for the car and the team, we have attracted over 30 new team members to join our efforts.

Gato del Sol III leading a parade.

We have had several opportunities to share our car with the public, including:
  • Karl Shannon's 8th Annual Cruisin' for St. Jude car show
  • Engineering Homecoming weekend
  • Big Blue Goes Green Sustainability Fair
  • Bluegrass Green Expo
Public officials from the Commonwealth were curious about Kentucky's only solar-powered car, as well. During BBGG, Lexington's Mayor Newberry got to check out Gato 3, and Governor Steve Beshear took our car for a spin during his visit to campus.

The team is currently in the design phase for our next car, Gato del Sol IV. We have over 40 students working hard on eight different project teams. This includes two Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design (ME411/412) groups. We also have increasingly strong faculty support from our advisors, Dr. Scott Stephens and Dr. Vijay Singh, to help review our design decisions.

With the support of the College of Engineering we have obtained new Gallium Arsenide solar cells from EMCORE. These cells are approximately 26% efficient, compared to the 18-20% efficiency for our previous cells. This is a significant investment in the future of UK Solar Raycing, because it allows us to generate more power from a smaller, lighter car.

Our new solar cells!

The plan for Gato 4 is to participate in the 2010 North American Solar Challenge (NASC). We are also conducting a feasibility study for participation in the 2009 World Solar Challenge (WSC). This race, which will take place in Australia in October of 2009, is a high-speed sprint across the continent, whereas the NASC relies more on weather and energy strategy. This would be UK's first attempt to compete in the WSC.

We are always looking for new sponsors; without their support, we would not be able to participate in this great learning experience. Gato del Sol III was made possible by:
  • Belcan and Ralph G. Anderson
  • Hydro Aluminum
  • Stone Farm
  • Sunpower
  • Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America
  • UK College of Engineering
  • UPS
We are currently in talks with a few new financial, process, and material sponsors. This will help us with composite materials, shell molds, chassis and suspension parts, and electronic components.In addition, our Adopt-A-Cell program has returned. This allows anyone to support the UK Solar Car Team through a $50 donation, which pays for one of our 2000 GaAs solar cells.

If you are interested in supporting the UK Solar Car Team, please contact us at:

That's all for now. From our team to yours, we hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Nick Such
University of Kentucky
Solar Car Team, General Manager

Friday, July 25, 2008

Race wrap-up!

Well in my last post I promised a quick update on the events surrounding the last day of the race, but it just seemed that my lack of sleep had finally caught up with me, for that is all I did whenever I had free time at the hotel. Well now we’re on the road again, halfway through Wisconsin on our way back to Lexington. But now, I’m just going to recap the events from last Tuesday on.

Being the last day of the race leaving from Medicine Hat, the whole team was very excited to get started on the last day of our long journey. It was a relatively short leg, being less than 200 miles long, but there were some factors that made it seem quite longer. Early into our last leg from Medicine Hat, the rear window of our lead vehicle just shattered. Being one of the two people in the back seat, it gave us quite a start. We supposed it could have been caused by the passing 18-wheeler, but we didn’t care to bother pondering that too much, we just pushed all the broken glass into the trunk and got on our merry way.

Being in the back seat without a rear window did have its benefits, such as an unobstructed view of the solar car so that I can take this nice picture! Solar car meets oil derrick…

We then swapped out Scott for my turn to drive. Figuring that Nick got the starting line, Scott got the Canadian border, it seemed reasonably fair for me to take the finish line. But before I got in, I made sure that I brought my camera to take some action shots while I still had a chance.

Another troublesome part of our drive was the strong headwind that we had to plow through. To put the importance of aerodynamics of a solar car into perspective, we were driving around 30 mph in the middle of a blazing noon sun. Without the wind, we would either be charging our battery or we could choose to go faster, but on this day, we were actually wasting a significant amount of our battery power.

After dealing with that trouble, new problems lay ahead of us. We were approaching the edge of the city of Calgary, under an overcast sky, in the middle of rush hour, and we had less than 45 minutes to cross the finish line. We had a completely drained battery pack from the day’s drive, so we had no other choice but to trailer the last 20 miles. Unpacking the car right at the edge of the finish line, we were able to cross the line with just three minutes left to spare! Having to put the car into the trailer for the last 20 miles was certainly a damper on our spirits, we were really hoping to be able to make it, but crossing the finish line completely alleviated those feelings. We were done!

On Wednesday, we attended the awards ceremony that was hosted by the University of Calgary and the Calgary Zoo. We got a nice lunch, and all the teams got a chance to trade each other’s team shirts. I got two Calgary shirts and a Michigan shirt, a very good haul! Then we got a chance to explore the zoo, which, of course, was a ton of fun!

But now, like I said, we are in Wisconsin, about 100 miles away from Madison, our intended stop tonight. We have been driving nonstop since 1:00 pm yesterday. We intended on stopping for the night in North Dakota, but then we learned the hard way that there are not many motels where we drove though. So we’ve been on a nap/drive rotation that has worked pretty well, but such driving is pretty taxing and we don’t want to do that for the full 32 hours it takes to get from Calgary to Lexington. We hope to get back on the road early tomorrow morning so that we can get back in the early afternoon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2400 miles down, achieved 11th place!

Here is a quick update since we finished the race, we are about to head out for a celebratory dinner, but once I get back I'll write a fully entry. We got 11th! We are just happy to be a part of Kentucky's first solar car that qualified and finished. Here are the final standings...

Team Name

Total Time
University of Michigan

Principia College

FH Bochum Solar Car Team

University of Waterloo

University of Minnesota

University of Calgary

Missouri S&T

Iowa State University

Red River College

University of Arizona

University of Kentucky

Queen's University

Northwestern University

Durham University

Oregon State University


In Canada... tomorrow is the last day!

Just after dealing with the pot hole incident, we trailered to Winnipeg to Red River College, our next state stop. We did, however, bring the car out to drive across the US/Canadian border.

Red River set up the whole works for all the solar teams, offering a steak dinner, live band (named Tele), and access to their computer labs and machine shop. Also, as usual per most stage stops and checkpoints on this race, a representative from UPS provided us with food and goods to help us along on our journey. So by the time we left Red River's campus, we were all in pretty high spirits.

The drive from Winnipeg was gorgeous, fields of flax and canola lined the highway as far as one can see. And some fully bloomed fields of flax almost looked like lakes.
Here is Gato at an intersection with canola in the background, also note the car's blinker, made with a row of LEDs.

We've been able to make good time traveling across most of Canada, but the final leg from Regina to Medicine Hat was just too much for our car to handle. At about 300 miles, there was not enough time for us to make it even with full sunlight. Our array simply isn't strong enough to accommodate the fast pace. So we chose to save our battery for the last day tomorrow and trailer the car to Medicine Hat.

But tomorrow is the last day, and with 187 miles between all the cars leaving Medicine Hat to Calgary, most teams should be able to arrive to the finish line close to the same time. But here are the times provided for all the teams in the race as of today...

Team Time
Michigan 47:22:53
Principia 56:18:51
FH Bochum 58:43:32
Waterloo 59:05:33
Minnesota 60:30:16
Calgary 70:13:58
Missouri S&T 72:58:23
Iowa State 84:53:20
Red River 85:38:55
Kentucky 91:42:36
Arizona 94:54:11
Queens 101:18:35
Northwestern 104:30:51
Durham 121:27:28
Oregon State 121:42:48

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On with the race

Now I am reporting to you from Fargo, North Dakota. Traveling on the solar car race we have kept to a steady pace, and have been around the 9th/10th position for the last few days. That is out of the 15 cars that are in the race, but considering that this is UK's first car to qualify for the North American Solar Challenge, we are all very excited with our position. Two nights ago we stopped for the day next to a sod farm.

Today, we were making great headway on our way to Fargo. That is, until, we hit a massive pothole in the road. After the hit, our driver, Nick, pulled to the side reporting he believed that he had a flat tire. When we took the shell off the car, what we saw was much worse.

That connecting rod that that is being held in the above photo should be straight. It is a solid 1/2 inch diameter rod that transfers the wheel's vibrations to the shock to the left of the picture. In our analysis of that part, it should have been able to handle some of the toughest shocks... well we had a heck of a shock for it...

That is Nick sticking over half of his hand straight into that crack, we were just happy that he was okay.

Well the trouble with this situation was that we did not have any spares to replace that rod. We needed something, anything that would fit, but it also needed to have a particular type of threaded holes in order to insert the appropriate rod ends. Getting the rod was easy enough, we just got a steel rod from Lowe's. But drilling and tapping threads into the
ends was going to be something else entirely, especially with our limited tools. This is where the story gets pretty amazing.

We were in the parking lot in the dark behind the motel with our solar car on stands ready to get to work. Several people stopped by to ask us about the car, as usual whenever we set up in a public place. But this time we were desperate to get something done, and it just so happened that when one gentleman and his girlfriend stopped by on their motorcycle, Nick popped his head out of the trailer and yelled, do you have a metal lathe? To our
astonishment, he said he was a machinist and a racer! We told him of our plight, and he eagerly volunteered to take our rod and tap the threads we needed for the rod ends! About half an hour to 45 minutes later, he showed back up with the part! If it weren't for him, our team would be dead in the water right now. Below is the photo of our new friends, holding the old rod and the new one he made. Thanks again!
We have no idea what is in store for us the next coming days. We have been held back significantly because of this broken rod, and we had to cover that distance trailering the car, which comes with heavy penalties to our overall race time. But hopefully this hasn't taken us completely to the end of the pack, however, we are still dead set on finishing this race! Halfway done, halfway to go.

Monday, July 14, 2008

First days of the race

Yeah, I know this video is anti-climatic at best, but it was the best "drive-by" footage we have so far. Just so I can prove to everyone that the car is doing its thing.

A lot has happened since the previous update. I last posted when we passed scrutineering, but since then we have completed qualifying, and we are now on day two of the race itself. That was the last 4-5 days in a nutshell, now for the details.

Last Thursday and Friday were the days set aside for qualifying. The main reason that we were at the Texas Motorsport Rance was because we used their track for this event. Every team had to complete 60 laps of the 1.7 mile circuit, with every driver doing at least 15 laps. On Thursday we were able to get Scott and me qualified, with not too many problems. We had to pit a couple of times to problem solve some issues, but we were able to find the solutions needed to make the repairs.

On day two of qualifying, we started the day by charging in the morning sun, then we continued to race the circuit for about 40 more laps. We then called it a day so that we could continue to make repairs and adjustments to the car. By the end of the day we found out that we qualified for the fifth starting position.

Saturday was a busy day. Even though we were done with qualifying, we had to show off the car in a showcase of all the teams that was open to the public. And we knew after that we had to get race-ready for early Sunday morning. The showcase was fun yet exhausting. Our tent blew over early in the morning and was too damaged to use. So a hot day in the Texas sun in a parking lot without any shade really took a number on us. After that was all over, we had a long night ahead. We set up shop in the parking lot outside our hotel, and then set to work to make repairs. It took a while and a lot of work was accomplished, especially on the electrical side of things, and we ended up going to sleep around three in the morning.

Being in attendance on the first day of the race on Sunday was a gratifying experience to say the least. Every team was set off one minute apart, and it was soon after we were off that the roads were cluttered with solar cars. Unfortunately for everyone, we had our first overcast day since coming to Texas. Running the car in highways that called for 40mph minimums plus barely getting any sunlight to the array resulted in us ending our day about an hour and a half early, as our battery was simply too drained to continue running.

Today is now day two of the race. We’ve set off early this morning, and we have held on steady throughout the day. We took it slow to make up for all the battery power we lost on day one, but by the time we got to our destination we had recharged a large portion of our battery pack. At our stage stop we met up with other solar teams on a college campus parking lot that was open to the public. Tomorrow, we'll all set off at 9 a.m. with all the other teams, and we'll keep on doing what we've been doing, and hope for some strong sun!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

UK is number 6 to complete scrutineering!

Wonderful news: the solar car team has now accomplished more and progressed further with Gato del Sol III than with any of the previous cars. We have completed scrutineering with a complete set of green lights so that we can qualify this Thursday and Friday and ultimately start in the race! All we have left to do is drive approx. 120 miles on circuit one of the Texas Motorsport Ranch. Any distance covered greater than that minimum will be tallied to determine the pole positions of the cars starting the main race itself. After securing greens for all aspects of our car, our confidence has never been higher. Below is a picture of a board showing all teams and their progression towards getting their car race worthy, as of mid-evening July 9th.

Numbers under smiley face: order which teams earned all green
Green: good to go on the race
Blue: good to run on the ~120 miles of qualifying, but still needs work to race
Yellow: good to run dynamic testing such as brake test and slalom, but nothing more
Red: needs work to run any kind of testing

It cannot be described how elated the team was after finding out we were in the clear. It was then that I was reassured of how strong our team really is. From the leaders with years of experience, to the newcomers who have yet to even start college, from the electrical to the mechanical to the logistics/marketing experience needed to accomplish such a feat, I could not have been any more proud of my team.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Forgive me in advance for such a short post but free time has been very minimal these past three days. I am taking time away from sleeping right now, so I hope I don't get carried away and keep it brief.

We arrived at Texas Motorsport Ranch early on Sunday, being one of the first teams there. The facility is quite nice and I recommend that you check out their website. It is a privately owned race track for private owners to play and for professionals to practice. And given that one has to pay out at least $3600 in initiation fees, we got the chance to see some pretty incredible cars and motorcycles. The racetrack will be used for our car's qualifying (a day long endurance race to determine the pole positions for the big race) that will occur Thursday/Friday. But before we can qualify we have to get our car past scrutineering. Scrutineering is the process of the racing officials observing our cars from the ground up to ensure safety, endurance, and drivability. There are several main categories that have to get "scrutineered," and they are outlined on this site. This site also keeps updated the status of every team in terms of their progress in scrutineering. We have noticed that this website is not updated very well, so expect the data to be at least 24 hours late. Currently, UK is green in Mechanical, Electrical, and Battery Protection. Others are very soon in getting fixed, and should be finished by the end of Wednesday.

Dealing with the scrutineering process, however, has been anything but easy. We have all been working from approx. 8 in the morning till midnight every day since we arrived in order to accommodate the advice and requirements as given to us by the scrutineers. It has been terribly exhausting. But we are not alone, almost every other team has been in the same boat working frantically to get their car to meet specifications. Matters are only made worse by the mid 90 degree humid weather, working on a parking lot with very little shade. It has been an exciting experience though, as what little time spent on the car we spend talking to other teams and getting to see other solar cars.
The below cars are from FH Bochum and U of Michigan.

I have been taking plenty of photos, and I had every intention of uploading some, but the internet connection here is a bit touchy. I hope that by the next post, I'll put up some. Until then, bed is calling my name, especially since I have to wake up in 4 hours...

*Update, added photos on 7/9

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wildcats are now in Texas!

After many hours of packing and prepping, the solar car team loaded up and finally took off from Lexington around 4 p.m. on the July 4th. We were hoping to take off sometime between noon and two, but it turned out packing a whole garage full of equipment into a trailer was a little trickier than we first imagined.

Just before we set off, we made sure to get a group photo of the gang (should make an excellent comparison photo with our team after this is all over). We also presented our team leader, Matt, a present for the huge commitment he has given to our team, a solar powered caliper.

We reached Little Rock, Arkansas around 2:15 a.m. central time and checked into a Days Inn. Waking up at 8:30 in order to catch the continental breakfast, we were on the road again by 10.

Nothing too terribly exciting to report save for one chain of events… Being in the lead vehicle of four, we were told over the radio from our comrades behind us that we lost our “UK Solar Car” magnet that was applied to the side of our van. A few miles go by while we debate whether or not it will be worth turning around to pick it up off the highway. We finally conclude that the crew in the second car should turn around and pick it up. It was right after they got off the exit that we noticed something flapping under the solar car trailer. It turned out that the axle had picked it up and the magnet remained perfectly balanced. We notified the car that turned around and persisted to park in a lot to pick up the magnet. It was pretty banged up, but it is still useable.

Back on the road all together again, things were looking good. That is, until about 30 miles from the magnet incident that we got a call over the radio that one of our members, Brian, could not find his wallet. Considering he was the one who jumped out of his car to grab the magnet, our only conclusion was that his van would have to backtrack to go search for it while everyone else continued. Luckily it was found by someone who called a number in the wallet who ultimately called Brian.

Now as I type this we are in Texas on I-30, only a couple of hours left until our final destination in Dallas. “Freebird” is playing on the radio, and we can only handle Anthony singing guitar solos for so long…

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And so it begins.

Hello and welcome to the blog of one of the team members of University of Kentucky's Solar Car Team. My name is Mark, and I have been an active member of the team for about two and a half years. I am a mechanical engineering major, and I have just finished my junior year at UK.

Although we have an official website,, I feel that this site will be more appropriate for my goals. I want this blog to serve as more of a journal from my perspective, something less formal than our official site. The purpose of this blog is fairly simple:

-I want this blog to be used as a way for fans of our solar team to be kept up to speed with our car.
-I also can see this site being used as a method for recruiting for the team, as students at UK or even prospective students can see what the team is all about, and be more willing to come on by and visit.
-Lastly, I can see this website as a venue for team members (old, current, and new) to discuss and problem solve issues that we may be dealing with.

We keep pretty busy at the solar car garage, Gato Del Sol III is our car and we all share a determination to participate and finish in the upcoming race, the North American Solar Challenge. This coming July 4th, we take off from Lexington and start our trip to Dallas. Posting on this site may become sporadic at best during the race, but I'll try to reach wifi hotspots and snag our mobile broadband as much as I can.