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Day 0 of the North American Solar Challange 2005

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Chris Tait has been given the special privilege of being embedded with the University of Calgary's Solar Team in their attempt to race from Dallas, Texas to Calgary, Alberta. Join him and follow the story as he reports on the daily lives of those involved in the race. Keep checking gauntlet.ucalgary.ca for regular updates.

"Speed up," a voice crackled over the CB. "Please speed up, Lead car."

This was a striking introduction to the product of hundreds of sleep-deprived and malnourished hours spent by students on the University of Calgary Solar Car Team.

I had been invited by the team to ride along as an embedded member, providing full photographic and written coverage of the North American Solar Challenge 2005, much as a journalist might join a military platoon to cover a war in the Middle East. The primary difference, as put by Team Manager Rashaad Sader, would be the "slave labour" they'd be getting in return.

Sitting in the back seat of a minivan labelled "Lead," (as in 'to lead') my backward gaze was met by a look of awkward calm through a small porthole from driver Murtaza Amirali. He lacked the distress one might expect to have when staring at a vehicle that was at least quadruple the weight of his own and whose rear bumper aligned almost perfectly with his forehead, now about fifteen feet behind and three and a half feet below where I was currently watching.

Admittedly, the first thing that came to mind when hearing the words "solar car race" strung together was equivalent to that of tortoises slowly cooking away on a highway wearing scarves and WWI pilot's goggles (note: I learned later that this assumption may have been appropriate about fifteen years ago); gung ho, but with nowhere to go. Imagine the surprise, then, of a naïve student journalist who was witnessing this space-age magic carpet catching up to our vehicle on Deerfoot Trail and wanting to speed up. The sleek, shiny carapace looked more like a prop from a George Lucas movie than an actual car as it hovered low across the asphalt on three bicycle-thin wheels. The pre-departure, on-road test was going smoothly, a fact proven by the car's handling on Deerfoot Trail in the speedy dregs of rush hour traffic.

"We've gotten it up to 120, but we think it could go up to 140," explains driver Kyle Rebryna, later. Quite the powerful little electric marvel.

The race begins in Austin, Texas on July 15 and ends back home in Calgary on July 27. There are plenty of things that need to happen before then. Before the starting line, the team needs to put the car through qualification tests, including a small manoeuvrability course, and timed trials.

Then, there is the less-than-simple task of actually driving the car the 3500 kilometres down to Austin in a trailer in less than four days. For those of us not blessed with the gift of math skill, that means we'll have to go from soft, over-apologizing Canadians to gun-toting, Bible-hardened southerners in 5.3 states. Wish us luck.

Want the other side of the story? Check out Media Representative Laurie Heilman-Bell's blog at www.calgarysolarteam.ca.

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