Solar-powered cars from all over the continent will again cruise across the finish line at the University of Calgary for the 2008 North American Solar Challenge this summer. With the race finishing in Calgary comes both a sense of having the home team advantage and pressure to perform well.
Mechanical manager Leo Marrero explained there is some pressure for the team to perform well this year with the finish line on home turf.
"We definitely feel some pressure," said Marrero. "We're the home [team], so we've got to try and do the best we can."
However, pressure to perform well is the least of the team's worries. A lot has changed since the race was last in Calgary in 2005. Stricter regulations about how the driver must sit in the car means they will now have to sit upright rather than lay down.
While some were nervous, first-year mechanical team member Yanyi Tan remained steadfast and explained she does not feel there is a lot of pressure for the team because she gets to work alongside several experienced solar car team members.
"I get to work with second, third, fourth-years and even people who have graduated and come back to help us out," said Tan, who hopes to play a large role on the team in this year's race.
As a whole, the team was excited by a project that allows them to put classroom theory into practice. It gives them a unique opportunity to develop what could one day be the future of personal transportation. Marrero explained working on the solar car provides team members with a realistic idea as to what sort of projects different members of the team will likely be inÂ--working on deadlines and purchasing parts for the car.
"We are building a car that doesn't use a drop of fuel and can race from Texas to Calgary," said aerodynamicist Ravi Mani, a team veteran who took part in the race in the Panasonic World Solar Challenge held in Australia last fall.
Schulich-1, which can reach speeds of 70 kilometres per hour while consuming about the same amount of energy as a hair blow-dryer, is expected to perform well this year after a successful tour Down Under, despite trouble.
During a test run prior to the race in Australia, Schulich-1 got its tail section caught in a guardrail, causing severe damage to the car. Mani explained the team learned a lot about working together after having to rebuild the portion of the car.
"We learned a lot from the World Solar Challenge," said Mani. "We had to rebuild the whole tail section [to] pass scrutineering, remount our chassis, align our wheels and get the green light from the race organizers."
He stressed that, while classroom learning enabled the team to build the car, the experience gained from the accident was valuable, teaching the team how to operate under pressure.
"The accident was the day before the big competition, and we basically had to pull an all-nighter to get the car safe to race," said Marrero, about their twelfth-place finish.